Elis tripped up by new wireless Web

Upperclassmen living in the residential colleges received an unexpected welcome gift in their suites this year. Instead of the free T-shirts, unbreakable water bottles and coffee mugs they were given as freshmen, students discovered wireless routers blinking on the walls.

The new installations are part of an ongoing initiative to make the Yale campus wireless that for the first time are making wireless available in residential-college student rooms. But slow and sometimes faulty wireless Internet has been frustrating some Yalies during their first few weeks back.

A student uses a laptop. Wireless access in the residential colleges, even with the installation of new routers, has been spotty as students begin the year.
Eva Galvan
A student uses a laptop. Wireless access in the residential colleges, even with the installation of new routers, has been spotty as students begin the year.

Zach Liao ’11 of Branford College and Samantha Rawlins-Pilgrim ’11 of Ezra Stiles College said they experienced problems with their connections during their first days at Yale, although the problems were eventually solved and their connections have been working fine since then. Others, however, are still experiencing problems with sporadic connections and lengthy log-on waits.

Director of Information Technology Services Net Services David Galassi said in an e-mail that he has heard relatively little feedback about the new routers, which he takes as a sign of their success.

“For the most part, we haven’t received much feedback since the start of the term,” he wrote. “We understand that with networking services, like other utility providers such as electric or water, we are only noticed when there are problems.”

ITS representatives said the routers were malfunctioning early on because ITS underestimated the number of wireless users. The more students log on to a given wireless network, Galassi said, the slower the connection speed of each user becomes. He said ITS designed the wireless service to handle a significant number of simultaneous users at each location. Networks are constantly monitored, he said, so that if certain areas of the network are over-utilized, ITS can add capacity to meet that demand.

But students interviewed still reported slower connection speeds at peak times like late afternoon and early evening. Pierson College in particular has been hit hard by faulty wireless connections. Avi Kupfer ’10, a student in the college, said sarcastically that the wireless routers were great — but it would be better if they provided Internet.

Alice Walton ’10 said that at one point, she and a suitemate were standing six inches from each other in their Pierson suite, and while her Internet connection was working fine, her suitemate’s was not working at all.

Nate Blair ’11, who is in Morse College, said he has encountered problems when visiting a friend’s suite in Pierson, although the connection in his own suite “works fine.”

Given students’ reliance on the Internet to complete assignments, and an increasing number of professors who are using the Internet to reach students outside of the classroom, some Elis are feeling the hurt of faulty connections in their academic lives. Samba Binagi ’11, also of Pierson, said he was unable to do his physics homework one night because his service was so bad.

Students experiencing problems can install their own routers, but ITS computing assistants, who work for ITS’s Student Technology Collaborative, discourage the practice. Personal routers interfere with the Yale wireless network, Galassi said.

“It is very important that students don’t install their own wireless routers,” he said. “These devices communicating on the same channels will interfere with each other and will provide both the students and their neighbors with slow and inconsistent wireless performance.”

But some students are finding ways around ITS’s reluctance to install personal routers. Alice Song ’11 said her suitemates asked a friend to install a personal router in their suite.

“I use the Yale-installed wireless routers,” Nick Coman ’09 said. “I think they’ve been working pretty well, but I had trouble streaming video once in Stiles.”

The ITS Web site says problems such as these are to be expected. The Web site explains that the speed of a wireless connection is lower than that of a wired connection, which may make wireless connections unsuitable for large file transfers and audio or video streaming.

Some students said they are not bothered by the connection problems because there are other areas on campus that provide fast, reliable connections.

“My wireless does not work well,” Brooke Hart ’11, of Trumbull College, said. “But I probably wouldn’t consider getting my own wireless router, because if I’m doing work, I’m usually in the library.”

Another Trumbullian, Avinash Chak ’11, joked that his computer’s wireless problems are beneficial to his academic success.

“I’ve just been using an Ethernet cable, so I can’t go anywhere with my laptop,” he said. “It keeps me from getting distracted, so Yale should remove wireless Internet across campus.”

Although this year marks the introduction of wireless to residential-college living spaces, Galassi said wireless Internet arrived on campus in 2001 and has since been available in public spaces such as dining halls and libraries. Last year, the Office of the Provost embarked upon a multiyear project to provide comprehensive wireless coverage across the entire campus.

But this expansion currently excludes approximately one-fourth of the Yale population. Since the wireless routers were not installed on Old Campus, freshmen and annexed upperclassmen must either install their own routers or depend on Ethernet.

Branford College student Francesco Ciabatti ’10 said the absence of a wireless router in his Vanderbilt Hall suite contributed to his resentment at having been annexed.

Freshmen and annexed students will not have to wait long for the arrival of Yale-installed routers, as plans are already underway to make Old Campus wireless by the end of summer 2009, Galassi said.

Galassi said ITS will continue to investigate and fix problems with existing wireless connections — but until all of the kinks are worked out, some students may have an excuse not to do their physics homework.

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