By Zachary Osborne, Contributing Writer
Asbury’s connection to the Internet has recently been the target of many jokes and negative comments. Dorms and classrooms have been full of students and professors bemoaning the terrible network. But Asbury University’s Information Technology Services Department has been hard at work behind the scenes, installing major improvements to Asbury’s wireless network.
An informal, poll hosted on SurveyMonkey and distributed to the campus on Feb. 13 garnered 270 responses. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that they leave Asbury’s campus to get a better Internet connection while doing homework. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that they use their phone’s mobile data plan to bypass Asbury’s network while doing homework. Sixty-five percent of respondents said that they have had to turn in online class assignments late because Asbury’s Internet was down when they tried to upload their assignments.
“The Asbury Internet is definitely something I only use when I have to,” said freshman Vernon Hall. “My phone is always connected to data. Having unlimited data is a blessing.”
Some students who don’t have access to mobile data resorted to escaping campus to find a more reliable connection. “The WiFi at the Seminary is usually more reliable,” said junior Caitlin Gagnon.
The IT Department is aware of the problems that the campus has been having, however, and has made great strides since last semester to make the Internet experience better.
“Four years ago, we built an entire wireless network in the resident halls using then-current technology,” said Paul Dupree, the Assistant V.P. of Information Technology Services. “Since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of wireless everything—phones, tablets, gaming devices, and so on. We’ve gone from maybe one or two devices per student to five or six, which means ten or twelve devices per room. That created an explosion of traffic that the network simply wasn’t built for.”
Scott Irwin, the Network Manager for the campus, said that there are short-term and long-term plans for the network. “In order to do it right, we have to replace everything, but we wanted a short-term solution,” he said. “So we went with one wireless hub per room, which increases the amount of signal strength available per room. We have gone from about 60 wireless hubs throughout all the dorms to over 600.” Dupree said that he has seen major improvements in speed and reliability since the new hubs were installed.
Dupree also said that the IT Department has other long-term plans to increase the speed and reliability of the network.
But when students have problems with the Internet, it is not always something that the IT Department can fix.
“One of the problems is phone hotspots, which use WiFi,” said Dupree. “When people use their hotspots to bypass Asbury’s network, it broadcasts a signal that can interfere with Asbury’s routers, which can cause a domino effect as people switch to their phones.”
He also said that phones aren’t the only negative influence. “Wireless printers are a major issue,” he said. “They can interfere with WiFi just like hotspots.” Dupree said that the IT Department can’t do anything to fix those issues, so they “just need students to be more mindful about their hotspots.”
Sometimes, though, there are problems that neither the IT Department nor students can fix. “A recent update to Apple’s OS X had a bug that caused a lot of Apple computers to have problems with wireless,” said Dupree. “It may have seemed like our problem, but it was actually Apple’s.”
So if the IT Department has been working so hard, why do so many students have a negative view of them? “There’s probably a public relations problem,” said Dupree. “We rely heavily on the resident life staff to keep people aware of what we’re doing in the residence halls, but it’s not their job to be our PR arm.”
Overall, the IT Department is confident in the work they have done so far, and Dupree expects the Asbury Internet to be far better than it has been. “Starting this semester, we should be seeing a much more stable network in the residence halls,” he said. “We are anxious to hear back from students who had problems with the old network.”