MC investigates wireless problems on campus

Matt Green assisted a cable contractor in the discovery of disconnected fiber-optic cable on Court Street. Photo Courtesy of Sandor Pardi
Matt Green assisted a cable contractor in the discovery of disconnected fiber-optic cable on Court Street.
Photo Courtesy of Sandor Pardi

As many students know, Maryville College recently experienced a lengthy wireless outage at the Court Street Apartments.

Even the college’s Information Technology staff did not immediately know the reason for the outage, so a contractor was called in to help investigate the issue. After several days, the culprit of the outage was revealed to be a cut fiber-optic cable that provides the wireless network for the apartments. The cable, which had previously been tied to a pole on Court Street, had been knocked off and run over by a car. When Information Technology found the cable, it was lying in the middle of the street.

The cable was unable to be repaired, so a brand-new fiber-optic system was installed from Bartlett to Court Street and wireless was re-established on Oct. 10.

The bigger problem was, many students weren’t sure what was going on with the wireless during the repair process. To address the communication problem, a Facebook page for the MC Information Technology department was created.

Mark Fugate, the director of IT, said that the new Facebook page was created to “provide updates, either on problems or also on new projects we’re going to be working on.”

Typically for most campus-wide wireless problems, Fugate would send a mass email to all students. For building-specific problems, IT contacts Student Development and the information is circulated.

The Facebook page will enable IT to get in touch with the students on a more personal level by having updates about the wireless appear on students’ homepages.

When asked about the existing wireless issues on campus, Fugate explained that, “all the buildings [on campus] present unique challenges.”

For example, Gibson was built with industrial grade dry wall and sheetrock, which is great for construction, but terrible for signal of any kind. The material of the building is not permeable, so cell phone or wireless signal cannot get through.

Fugate recommends that students try plugging in to the Ethernet port available in every room. The network is consistently four to five times faster with an Ethernet cable as opposed to using Wi-Fi.

“It’s not because the wireless is bad, it’s because wired is better. Wired will always be better,” Fugate said.
Sutton, Davis, Copeland, Gamble and Cooper are all cinder block buildings, which means the signal does not permeate well through the walls.

The Clayton Center for the Arts is also a problematic building. Because so much of the building is soundproofed, which is great for theater and choir, wireless signal is unable to get through to certain parts.

Currently, IT is in works to give the current wireless system a face lift. The old wireless networking was put in place in 2006 and was designed to handle up to 300 devices and a maximum of 150 wireless access points. Now, however, there is usually around 1,000-1,100 wireless devices attempting to connect to the network.

Many students have already seen the network struggling to keep up with all of the devices. When the network times out as a device attempts to make a connection, it is because of the access point. The access point is only able to handle so many connections at a time, so in order to “protect” its signal it kicks devices off.

The IT department employs a system for wireless around the college called “best effort wireless.” This means that because wireless service cannot be guaranteed everywhere on campus, the IT department strives to find ways to make the existing system work as best as it can under the current pressures.

For example, Sutton has 18 access points and there are still dead spots throughout the building and for the entirety of Fayerweather Hall, there are only four such access points.

Wireless problems around the college can often be explained by building characteristics or the capacity of the access points, but the college is trying to address these issues.

Fugate said that the IT department is currently in discussion with the Maryville College Cabinet to proceed with a new wireless vendor.

“This is not an expansion of the old system. We can’t do anything else with the old system,” Fugate said. “This is a new system altogether.”

Another reason for wireless problems that many students may be overlooking this year is the amount of new freshman living on campus. With new students come new devices that attempt to coexist on a struggling wireless system.

Fugate also remarked that if students have questions, comments or ideas about the wireless systems, they should go down to the basement of Fayerweather and visit the IT department.

“Come down and talk to us,” Fugate said. “We are always willing to help.”

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