Wireless problems plague dormitories

Lucy Hough

As students settle into the school year, those living on campus are learning how to cope with an unreliable wireless connection. Students living in the dorms have found that the wireless is faulty and often disconnects after only a few moments.

“My wireless Internet stays connected for between five and 15 minutes, and then it disconnects,” said Victoria Leonhardt, a sophomore biology and physiology major who lives in Payne Hall. She said that many people have been experiencing this issue in her hall.

There are two main problems making the wireless connection so difficult to use, said Dave Maki, chief technology officer at NMU. The first involves faulty conductor switches purchased by NMU in upgrades to the dormitory wireless system. The second problem is caused by the overloading of the systems by personal wireless devices.

The wireless connection is sporadic. Maki believes that the Internet is most inconsistent in the recently renovated dorms, though students in other halls have also been experiencing similar difficulties.

“It would be easier to solve if it was a more generic problem,” said Maki, “But instead there are more of like groups of people that are having problems.”

At the beginning of the school year, new access points were installed on all of the renovated dorms. Access points are the devices that make the wireless signal accessible to those in the general area. In addition to the access points, Telecom installed switch conductors which are placed throughout the buildings. They are supposed to conduct this signal through the dorms and make it more accessible.

Specifically, the switches, or conductors, that were installed at the time the new access points were initiated cannot handle the power that the access points conduct. These switches are faulty because of a production error, so Telecom is working directly with the manufacturer to correct this problem.

In areas that the wireless connection is not being conducted properly, Telecom has reverted to using power injectors, which are less effective conductors, until the problem is resolved with the switches. The switches will then be replaced at no cost to the university. They are more effective and also a more “green” option.

Recently, Cisco, the company that manufactures the conductor switches, sent NMU new software that changes the way the switches are working, making the wireless connection more accessible. Telecom is currently working with students to see how effective this solution is.

The second problem is found among students who use wireless electronics, which make the connection slow and unreliable. Such electronics are prohibited in the dorms as stated by the Acceptable Use Policy which can be found on the Academic Computing Services Web site.

Any electronic device that operates at or above a 2.4 GHz frequency is interfering with the university’s wireless radio frequencies and extending the network, which congests the network and makes it slower to use. Such electronics include cordless phones, wireless routers that conduct an independent wireless network and even some gaming systems.

Students can fix this problem by turning off their wireless electronics. Telecom is going through the dorms and asking students to turn off such electronics. Any student who refuses to turn off these devices will be referred to his or her resident director. These electronics are good for use in a domestic setting, but they take up too much radio frequency in the dorms, which hurts the wireless connections that others are trying to use, Maki said.

Such devices introduce more radio frequencies into the network which the university has already installed, and this makes the connection very congested.

“In this environment, the laptop trying to communicate with the wireless network is like trying to have a conversation at a rock concert while standing in front of the speakers,” Maki said.

“We have installed independent power injectors in problem areas and will continue to monitor the problems until the problem is resolved,” Maki said. He insists, however, that he cannot know where students are experiencing difficulties unless the student makes the issue known.

“Students should call the Help Desk if they have problems . we’ll send people down there to resolve the issue,” he said.

A Help Desk employee contacted about the problem said that they will transfer a student to Telecom if an issue exists specifically with the wireless in the dorms.

Some students are frustrated that a solution has not been found.

“I’m okay with using the Ethernet cable for now, but it seems kind of ridiculous that the wireless works everywhere else on campus except the dorms,” said Corey Green, a freshman biochemistry, pre-med major and dorm resident.

“It’s been a good six to seven weeks, and we still don’t have a working wireless; it leads me to believe nothing is being done,” he added.

Green spoke with his resident assistant about not being able to connect to the wireless network.

“I talked to (him) the first week of classes, and as far as I know the problem still exists,” he said.

Director of Housing and Residential Life Carl Holm said that he has spoken with Telecom, and he assures all students that these technical difficulties are being fixed.

Holm said about those who phone in their complaints, “It’s good to know where the problems are. But sometimes it slows us down. Please be patient with us, and know that staff is aware of this problem.”