WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Improving Wireless Access at WIU

Jan 18, 2015

As you might guess, it costs money to upgrade technology on a college campus.

The main data center for WIU is in Morgan Hall.
Credit Rich Egger

And funding is one of the roadblocks facing Western Illinois University as it works to make wireless service more widely available.

“Each access point is about $1,000. We’ve surveyed some of the buildings and we’re getting 60 to 70 to 80 access points per building to cover a five to six story building,” said Dan Romano, Director of University Technology.

In addition, each access point can handle only so much wireless traffic.  In a large classroom, those access points can quickly reach their limit.

Dan Romano with the server that houses the university’s website.
Credit Rich Egger

“A student could have a cellphone, a laptop, and a pad.  Those are three things trying to connect to that access point,” said Romano. 

“So that’s what we’re having to build the network for now. It’s not so much the coverage but to be able to handle the capacity of the students that are connecting to it.”

The shortage of funding means U-Tech must prioritize projects, and one of its top goals in recent years was to ensure faster wireless service in the residence halls.

“Students today have never known a time when they haven’t had wireless connectivity.  So we made that a huge priority and put a lot of effort behind it,” said Steve Frazier, Chief Information Officer for U-Tech.

Romano said it cost about $1.2 million to make those improvements to residence halls on the northern half of campus this past summer.  Dorms in the southern half of campus received upgrades previously.

“Students pay a fee for wireless in the residence halls,” said Romano. “That is a funded environment so we are able to make progress there.”

He said the university also borrowed money for the project.

A wireless access point in Malpass Library. “When you open up your laptop and you see the signal that’s advertised as ‘WIU Secure’ or ‘WIU Guest,’ that’s the device that’s providing that,” said Dan Romano of U-Tech.
Credit Rich Egger

Although wireless access is now improved in residence halls, students continue to be frustrated by the access in Malpass Library. The issue was raised again in December by Michael Quigley, the student representative on the WIU Board of Trustees.

“You know, there is absolutely nothing more devastating than being two hours into a research paper and you can’t connect to the wi-fi, it just drops, etc,” said Quigley.

U-Tech said funding has not been available for upgrades in the library – a building with a certain physical limitation.

“Ironically it’s the books. The book stacks are very dense and the wireless signal doesn’t travel through those very well,” said Romano. He said the shelves of books act like a thick wall.

He said for now U-Tech is working to improve coverage in targeted parts of the building such as group study areas and the digital commons on the first floor.