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K-State Today

October 28, 2013

Wireless access demand, usage recommendations

Submitted by Information Technology Services

Did you know that there are 2,000 wireless access points across campus in buildings and green spaces and the number has doubled over the last three years? To meet the growing demand and for scalability, networking and telecommunications services, or NTS, continues to upgrade the wireless network. To accommodate the demand that experts in the industry predict, universities and high-density organizations will need four times the current number of access points.

According to Danny Fronce, associate director of networking and telecommunications services, more wireless devices are hitting the K-State network than ever beforeAt 9:05 a.m. on a typical Friday morning, 9,234 devices were connected to the K-State wireless network, said Fronce. Fast forward to noon on any given day, when peak usage occurs with 14,000 devices connecting to our network.

Audrey Hubbell, network manager, indicated that K-State’s wireless issues are threefold and revolve around legacy wireless infrastructure, client demand and client behavior. Campus wireless deployment began in 2003, when the majority of wireless devices consisted of faculty and student laptops.

The demand for wireless services increased at a moderate rate through 2009. Wireless standards were ratified in September 2009 to increase the number of available wireless channels and raise bandwidth capabilities. As funding is available, older infrastructure has been upgraded or replaced with newer technology. However, 35 percent of K-State's current infrastructure is legacy and only supports low bandwidth standards.

The most significant challenges to the wireless landscape have occurred in the last three years.

  • The number of wireless devices on campus has increased 200 percent, due in part to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets.
  • With students and staff bringing two to three wireless devices to campus on average, access points have become quickly overloaded.
  • Even when these devices are not in use, they continue to consume overhead services in order to stay connected to the network.

While the total number of access points has doubled in the last three years, those efforts were concentrated on extending service into spaces that were devoid of wireless coverage, and improving coverage in buildings that were undergoing a major refresh of the network infrastructure. High-occupancy areas such as Hale Library and the K-State Student Union, which previously had adequate coverage, are now being stressed by the explosion in the number of clients. Additionally, new demands for wireless coverage in classrooms and lecture halls are putting a burden on systems that were designed for general coverage rather than density coverage.

Allowing for the mix of low- and high-band associations, the current access points can reasonably support up to 20 clients. However, typical client counts in higher density environments range from 50–60 devices on a single access point, which degrades network performance. Networking and telecommunications continues to address these issues with infrastructure improvements.

Other universities also are feeling the crunch. Bruce Maas, the CIO for the University of Wisconsin, spoke at the recent EDUCAUSE conference about a student bringing 18 devices to campus. More about this explosion of wireless devices on campuses is available in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some recommendations for students to improve their Wi-Fi experience:

  1. Update the drivers on all devices connected to the campus wireless network, to ensure your devices are working with the most recent technologies.
  2. Verify you are connected to KSU Wireless or KSU Housing. KSU Guest has a limited number of available IP addresses and limited access to the network.
  3. Turn off your wireless Network Interface Cards when not in use. Smartphones and tablets actively seek to maintain wireless connections, even when they are in a pocket, backpack, etc.
  4. If you experience problems with connectivity while moving from one location to another, turn off your wireless and then turn it back on in the new location. Some devices will hold onto an existing weak signal, rather than re-associate to an access point in the new location.
  5. Leave your personal wireless routers at home. Interference from these rogue devices can range from creating unnecessary overhead on the access points to causing conflict in service delivery to your nearby neighbors.