Officials to evaluate Wi-Fi across campus, upgrade thousands of access points

Media Credit: Ian Saville | Photographer

Students will be able to use the internet faster after the completion of a project that will update more than 4,000 Wi-Fi access points by late 2020.

Officials are now surveying the reliability of GW’s Wi-Fi signal around campus ahead of planned upgrades to the system coming late next year.

Chief Information Officer Loretta Early, the head of the Division of Information Technology, said officials aim to assess the wireless network signal in 65 buildings across campus and begin upgrading more than 4,000 access points by late 2020. The project precedes plans to deploy a new wireless standard, called Wi-Fi 6, on campus, which will enable students to access the internet at faster speeds than before, she said.

“We will continue to listen to our campus community, collaborate with our campus partners, engage stakeholders in envisioning new ways to deliver a premier experience,” Early said in an email.

She said GW is among the first universities to begin integrating Wi-Fi 6, which was officially unveiled last month in response to the growing number of devices that require Wi-Fi connections in homes that place a “strain” on existing capabilities.

“The new standard is considered the next generation in WiFi technology, allowing all compatible devices to transmit signals more efficiently with faster wireless speeds, improved roaming experiences, more robust coverage and better performance in congested areas, like college campuses,” Early said.

Early said several wireless devices – including the newest iterations of the iPhone and the most recent version of the Samsung Galaxy – will support the new technology.

“You can’t have a quality student experience or conduct sustainable research efforts without considering the quality of the overall digital experience,” Early said. “This requires a comprehensive approach to both assessing and upgrading campus coverage and bandwidth capabilities in order to provide equitable and reliable access across all buildings and locations.”

She added that further updates about the project’s status will be communicated to the University community through email notifications, social media and posters.

In interviews with more than 20 students, 17 students said they’ve experienced a spotty signal, but five said they did not think a major Wi-Fi overhaul is necessary.

Brittney Ho, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, said she often has difficulty connecting her phone to the Wi-Fi all over campus.

“I find myself turning off Wi-Fi and just going straight to my own data some of the time,” she said.

Ho said one of the biggest issues with the current Wi-Fi is that it interferes with course registration, which has prevented her from getting into her desired classes. Registration for spring classes begins next month, according to the GW website.

“At 7 a.m. on your registration day, if your Wi-Fi decides to act up, you are severely disadvantaged in getting the classes you may need,” she said.

Ho added that while improvements to GW’s wireless network would be helpful, she does not see it as the “most pressing” issue, relative to others like food insecurity and a lack of mental health resources, for administration to tackle.

Roni Edni, a freshman in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the Wi-Fi can take some time to connect, but it is generally “reliable.” The Wi-Fi occasionally “interferes” with her homework when a large file will not load on Blackboard, and she resorts to her phone data when her computer takes too long to connect, she said.

Edni added that improvements to the Wi-Fi network could help students complete their work more efficiently.

“I think if there was a way to have better or faster Wi-Fi, anybody would benefit from it because so much of the work we do right now is on mobile devices and laptops,” she said.

Cameron Landry, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, said he often has trouble using GW’s wireless network on the Vern Express and in the basements of some buildings, like West Hall, Phillips Hall and District House. Officials selected a new vendor with Wi-Fi-equipped vehicles to operate the Vex last year.

Landry said he often has to move to different areas or reboot his computer to connect to Wi-Fi, and he often has to “manually reconnect” his laptop to the Wi-Fi upon opening it, which can be “inconvenient.”

“I think GW needs to improve its Wi-Fi, as I and many other students find that the Wi-Fi is shut off every time we open our laptops,” he said.

Caitlin Peirce, a freshman majoring in marketing, said officials should only prioritize Wi-Fi updates if the move is “economically smart” because the network is not a major issue.

“I’ve never had to go to a different place on campus to connect to Wi-Fi,” she said.

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