The connective lottery that is Trinity’s WiFi is maddening. The average student in Trinity College relies heavily on an internet connection to get assignments completed, emails sent and research done, and the sight of a little white Windows notification, loitering in the bottom right hand corner of your laptop screen is at best inconvenient and at worst disastrous and farcically unreliable. That students for a time could not even connect their device to WiFi in Ireland’s leading university only serves to further illustrate this point.
On July 2nd 2013, the College’s Executive Officer Group approved the WiFi mobility project with the aim of replacing the current WiFi service portfolio and expanding and extending the service. The project aims to increase the existing student Bring Your Own Device-style service, capped then at 12,000 device, and redesign the WiFi coverage across campus, in addition to several other goals. However, this redesign has resulted in a mass loss of coverage and inability to connect to or even pick up college WiFi services for many students. Nearly every location on campus has been affected, from House 6 to student residences, to the libraries. Indeed, these affected locations are those that have been “upgraded”, according to IT Services statements, which some suggesting using it outsourcing.
Prior to any upgrades, the College WiFi appeared in decent working order. In considering the WiFi mobility project, which was due for completion on November 30th, the phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes to mind. As has been proven since the start of the academic year, the benefits of increased service and capacity for devices are rendered void when the beneficiaries of such improvements cannot access them.
The results of this WiFi disruption are not complicated: students attempting to use this service are unable and their college experience suffers. The continued work aiming to upgrade the service has actually disrupted the service greatly.
Students living on campus have particularly struggled with WiFi services. On October 22nd a number of House 9 residents alerted The University Times to one particular incident of WiFi outage. WiFi services were absent in House 9 for the weekend and did not resume until late in the day, three days later. The residents had assumed IT Services had scheduled this, but when contacted, IT Services claimed to have no idea of the issue. They reassured the residents that they would resolve the issue, but no representative went to House 9. Eventually, IT Services explained that because the wireless access points were older than 10 years old, the issue could not be resolved. They added that IT Services would add a newer high-powered access point the following week. An email the previous week had stated that IT Services would install WiFi upgrades during the incident period but upgrades did not arrive until the week after residents reported the issues. House 9 residents are unable to rely on campus WiFi services and one resident has resorted to using an O2 mobile modem from home because of the College’s unpredictable connectivity. Many have also turned to mobile phone data during the incident period, with large data charges the result.
Almir Kahrimanovi?, who works in Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s Click.ie computer repair shop in House 6, has first-hand experience of the trouble students have had with WiFi services. During an initial consultation with The University Times Kahrimanovi? declined to give a recorded interview regarding Trinity’s WiFi service but gave his assessment of the situation by email to The University Times. He states: “It seems that some laptops even with all of the Windows system security updates and compatible anti-virus program cannot connect to TCDwifi. Other networks are visible and they would be able to connect too but not with TCDwifi”. In the email, Kahrimanovi? also raised the issue that “In some cases the built in WiFi cards are not compatible”, explaining that “students need to get an external WiFi card”.
Seeking comment on the WiFi situation, The University Times first contacted James Harty, a team leader and director of WiFi clinics at IT Services. Harty stated he was unavailable to provide comments on the matter, and directed The University Times to Brian O’Hora, the WiFi mobility project leader. Efforts made to speak to O’Hora about the WiFi mobility project resulted in questions posed by email via the College Press Officer, Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn. After an extended wait, Ní Lochlainn eventually returned O’Hora’s email responses. Patience with IT Services and its provision of WiFi seem to go hand in hand these days. If you need to find a reputable IT service, check out dallas it services.
Regarding service disruption, O’Hora said: “We are aware of some WiFi coverage issues in a select number of areas and we have received approximately 40 incident reports from students and staff concerning this. These issues arise from the need for tuning and refining work following the upgrade of the WiFi equipment in each area as part of the Mobility Project”.
O’Hora explained that the manual tuning required is “incremental in nature rather than instantaneous” and can take up to two to four weeks to “resolve all but the most stubborn coverage problems”. IT Services prioritise the locations for these manual tunings based on information they collect from “WiFi coverage surveys and systems monitoring”. O’Hora added that this tuning is “due to the diverse nature of the buildings, location usage density and interference”.
The number of people connected to TCDwifi at once in a particular area affects WiFi services and the student’s ability to connect to it. IT Services upgraded the WiFi service in Trinity to accommodate more users and, according to the WiFi mobility project update, the increased use of mobile devices. The irony of increasing the capacity of WiFi access points, leading to the reduction of a student’s ability to connect to the service, will not be lost on most.
Furthermore, there are so many areas of disruption that the diversity of the region really becomes negligible when coverage is as poor from one building to the next, disproving O’Hora’s comment. The results of this WiFi disruption are not complicated: students attempting to use this service are unable and their college experience suffers. The continued work aiming to upgrade the service has actually disrupted the service greatly. As a recent editorial by The University Times stated, WiFi services in Trinity College are as vital to students as the books on the library shelves, and the bookshelf is looking particularly sparse at this moment in time.
That students for a time could not even connect their device to WiFi in Ireland’s leading university only serves to further illustrate this point.
With the service disruption in mind, The University Times contacted James Hearty of IT Services for statistics regarding the number of visits student WiFi clinics have received this term. Instead, Lee Mills, Head of Central Distribution and Support, responded via the College Press Officer, Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn, again, with the statistics for the number of WiFi clinics held during the period of September 7th to October 23rd and the number of students and devices registered with TCDconnect.
TCDconnect is the Network Access Control (NAC) service adopted by IT Services in 2006. Before its introduction, every connection request to connect to the Trinity Network had been processed manually. This meant a delay of several working days after the submission of an online registration form. The NAC also provides a more secure college network by making sure computers connected to the Trinity network have the basic security software updates for all, providing a securer network.
The statistics regarding device and student registration to TCDconnect clearly demonstrate that the WiFi in Trinity College did need an upgrade to accommodate the growing number of students and devices. The total number of student users registered on TCDconnect during the aforementioned period saw a 7 per cent increase from the same period in 2014. Before this in 2014 TCDconnect saw an even larger increase of 17 per cent from 2013.
Separately, the total number of student devices connected on TCDconnect was an 11 per cent increase in 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. There was an even bigger increase in device registration in 2014 from 2013 with 36 per cent. Also of note is the large increase of “concurrent” students on the network from 2014 to 2015. Concurrent is the term for the number of students on the network at one time. In week six of Michaelmas 2014 the number of concurrent users peaked at 6,615, while in 2015 it was 7,524. The need for a working WiFi service is evident in the numbers alone.
What is most startling about the disruption to TCDwifi services this term is that the number of WiFi clinics held during the September 7th to October 23rd period have not increased compared to the same periods in 2014 and 2013. IT Services held 86 clinics this year, compared to 88 clinics held in 2014 and 117 in 2013. That IT Services have not needed to provide extra clinics in the face of WiFi disruption would suggest that this is the sufficient amount of support students needed. However, further information from IT Services is necessary to verify this. Despite yet another request for comment by The University Times on the prospects of the WiFi mobility project, no such comment has been provided.
IT Services continue to work on the WiFi mobility project and Trinity students continue to study. The success of student’s essays and lab reports may not affect IT Service’s ability to work, but the success of IT Service’s work affects Trinity students. November 30th has come and gone. But students have not been able to return to work without disruption.