New and improved Wi-Fi at Parkland

By Buster Bytes

Tech Columnist

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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Photo Illustration by Briana Kay Stodden/Prospectus News

Parkland College has replaced Wi-Fi access points and added new devices all across campus. The installation will increase the overall coverage area and the saturation capability of the wireless internet network.

If you've logged onto Parkland's Wi-Fi lately, you may have noticed that the access login page has changed. This small difference is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Last week, the Department of Campus Technologies oversaw the completion of Phases I and II of its wireless internet upgrade.

Addressing concerns from student body, faculty and staff, the department has replaced or added access points across campus to increase both the overall coverage area and the saturation capability of the network.

Buster sat down with Doug Brooks, Associate Director of Network Support Services for the Department of Campus Technologies, to get the details about the wireless upgrade. Brooks had explained last semester that the increased number of wireless access devices being used at the college had placed a strain on the network. The department managed to increase the overall bandwidth available to the college from 100 Mbs to 150 Mbs before even beginning Phase I of this upgrade.

Brooks attributes much of the success of the project to the responses his department received from a survey at the end of last semester.

"Not only did (the responses) help to define the project, but they gave us tangible evidence to bring before the board," Brooks explained. "They were our ammunition in getting the upgrade approved." Brooks said that the department had initially approached the board about an upgrade because they were not happy with the production of the current system.

That system was comprised of 37 wireless access points running the limited 2.4 GHz band of the "b/g" standards of wireless connectivity. The goal of Phase I of the upgrade was to replace these access points with models capable of running the much faster "n" standard. The new routers are backwards compatible, meaning they are still capable of servicing devices using the "b" and "g" standards, but are also capable of "n" standard connectivity at both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz.

The new standard increases the maximum throughput of the connection from 54 Mbs to 600 Mbs. What it boils down to, is that your phone, laptop or tablet will have a much faster, more reliable connection.

Brooks added, "One interesting feature of the new devices is that they are capable of detecting whether your device is able to connect at 5 GHz. If so, they will connect you automatically on the 5 GHz channel, which is not only faster, but has less traffic as well." More good news brought on by the new system is that connecting wireless to Parkland's network no longer requires a "keep open" window.

Under the old system, your browser had to leave a separate window open the whole time you were connected or lose that connection. This made it impossible for some devices to connect altogether, and forced others off the network frequently. "With the new system, users will no longer be forced offline," Brooks explained. "So even if you turn your laptop off and back on, you won't have to log back in." Brooks said the new system will allow users to stay online for six hours at a time.

Phase II of the wireless network upgrade brought us more access points, a lot more. The Department of Campus Technologies increased the number from 37 to 60, and has 160 more to deploy as needed. Most of the new devices have been used to increase the saturation of coverage in high usage areas. Brooks explained that the primary focus of Phase II was to increase coverage by specifically targeting the lounge areas around campus. Areas like the Gallery, Flag and TV lounges will find their coverage vastly improved.

Classrooms will receive increased access as well. Those classes with a need for Wi-Fi will receive their own access point, and those with projectors are already wired and ready for easy installation. Students or faculty who believe that their classroom needs an access point should send an email to the STAR office at star@parkland.edu.

Those who had previously expressed concern over the Wi-Fi at Parkland will be pleased by the steps taken by the Department of Campus Technologies in response to their complaints. Already the system has supported over 500 individual users at one time with zero complaints. Brooks ended our interview by pointing out that the upgrade just goes to show that Parkland is listening.

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