UFV is undergoing a major WiFi makeover. The upgrade, a $450,000 expansion, will improve the wireless network in order to meet growing needs of the institution for the following three years. This new system will be fully utilized in June this year.
The project itself is lead and organized by UFV’s information technology services (ITS) department. While there is not a set budget for annual follow-up upgrades, the system will be continually reassessed to keep it up to date. Future upgrades would vary in size depending on what kinds of expansions are needed.
“The estimates that we get are that there is anywhere from 2.3 to 2.7 devices on average per person. So a phone, tablet, maybe a laptop,” said manager of IT infrastructure, Brian Daniel.
It’s not uncommon for the Abbotsford campus to see 2500-3000 devices connected at one time. When the upgrade is finished, it will be able to support 7000-8000 people, with up to three devices per person, connected at once.
“It used to be that somebody had a telephone or laptop and that was all, and they weren’t logged in all the time,” said Daniel. “Now everyone is connected all the time and you’ve got data streaming constantly.”
The beginnings of the program largely came out of a student survey for university development. The survey revealed that 47.8 per cent of students wanted better WiFi. The next highest ranking issue was a need for more computer labs, with 24.1 per cent of students wanting more availability of labs.
“That says right away this is the number one priority for students on campus, to get WiFi access,” said Daniel.
The wireless program became the centre of attention after UFV replaced their older network provider, Provincial Learning Network (PLNET) with a new higher speed provider two years ago.
The new provider, BCNET, is a consortium that interconnects 106 higher education and research institutions across B.C. and is a much faster network. BCNET is an upgrade from PLNET, which serves most K-12 schools and at one time all the colleges and smaller universities in the province.
“The number one thing was to fix the internet feed, which we did by getting onto BCNET. The next thing on the list after that was to lift wireless, that was our next highest priority,” said Daniel.
The project is largely an infrastructure upgrade. It will nearly double the amount of access points across UFV campuses increasing range and speed. A wireless access point essentially converts a cabled ethernet signal to wireless internet. It broadcasts so multiple wireless devices can receive connectivity at once.
“The access points are similar to what you might think your WiFi router is,” said Daniel. “You’ll see them mounted on ceilings in a lot of places throughout the university.”
Because a wireless access point’s range is limited, multiple access points are needed to increase range across large institutions like a university campus.
Access points are connected by switches to a common central wireless controller. The controller is the central management point for the network. It keeps everything organized so that movement from one access point to another is seamless. This is important to avoid connection issues when walking through hallways or between buildings.
“Another thing that’s really exciting is we’re expanding to install external access points,” said chief information officer, Darin Lee.
In Abbotsford, there will be about a dozen outdoor access points. Part of the discussion about where to boost the network involved looking at ways to open spaces for transitional and flexible class and work spaces. Access points will be installed so that the network can be accessed from the courtyard, between buildings as much as possible, and near bus stops.
Along with the network upgrades, ITS will make a shift towards making eduroam the primary WiFi network at UFV. This means that the networks UFV wireless and UFV secure will be phased out, likely within the next few months.
“UFV wireless and UFV secure are really deprecated networks, they’re older technology,” said Daniel.
Eduroam is a world-wide roaming access service for research and education institutions and has a presence in 70 countries. The benefit of eduroam is that once a user is logged in, they can connect anywhere without a web-based login. The way it’s configured, a registered user will automatically connect to any eduroam network anywhere in the world. Whether a user goes to SFU, UFV, or the Central University of Punjab in Punjab, they’ll connect to every network.
Once the network launches, ITS will conduct another survey to gain student feedback about its quality. They are also interested in hearing feedback from network users once the upgrade is complete.