Staff Editorial: Tech staff unprepared

NW Staff

Students in the residence halls at Northern Michigan University have likely experienced some trouble with their wireless Internet connection this semester, and at least part of that difficulty should have been avoided.

The troubles stem from two causes, according to the university. First, NMU installed new, faster wireless access points on campus, but the conductors that distribute the signal throughout the dorms were faulty.

Second, many residents are using electronics that operate on the same 2.4 GHz frequency as the routers. Xbox 360 controllers, wireless routers, wireless printers, certain cell phones and some cordless phones are congesting the system, and this tends to make the Internet connection slow and unreliable.

The first problem – which was due to a manufacturer’s error – has been solved, as the university received new software for the conductors on Monday. However, the problem of overcrowded wireless frequencies could have, and should have, been avoided.

NMU Chief Technology Officer David Maki acknowledged that 2.4 GHz cordless phones – which have existed for a decade and can be purchased at Wal-Mart – can force nearby computers off the Internet when used.

The university is going to begin tackling this problem by creating new wireless networks on a 5 GHz frequency, allowing students to connect to the Internet with less interference. Still, the school admits that one of the challenges is in informing students of the problems – and how to avoid them.

It is easy to say that dorm residents should just plug an Ethernet cable into the wall and quit complaining. But even if both Ethernet jacks in the room work, the six-foot cable provided by NMU is inconvenient, at best.

Honestly, this should have never been a problem to begin with. Northern is a self-designated “laptop university” and the school takes pride in the fact that each student is provided with a computer, as well as unbridled Internet access. For class work, students must have daily access to the Internet and the Northern network.

A university with such expectations should be well versed in technological matters. A common frequency became overloaded with the traffic from approximately 2,500 students that live on campus. Not only should the technological gurus have seen something like this coming, but it’s important that they are better prepared to handle technical issues in the future.