Ever since Bowdoin upgraded its wireless network over Fall Break, many members of the community have expressed frustration as the College adjusts to the new system.
To many on campus, the upgrade seemed arbitrary and unnecessarily disruptive. However, the new protocol—WPA2 Enterprise—was implemented after about a year of discussion and testing, according to Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis. The network is designed to close the security gaps of the old, open access system that allowed anyone to "get on the wireless network and 'click,' get your information," according to Davis.
Davis apologized for the troubles people have been having with the new system.
"This decision, unlike the printing decision, was mine, and I'll take the flak for the problems with it," he said.
Nevertheless, he insisted that technological hiccups aside, the new security will help protect the entire Bowdoin community from Internet predation.
"Luckily we were ahead of the curve, but being out in front has a tendency to sometimes create disruptions that maybe get figured out later on," he said.
Davis stressed that integrating the network was more complicated than it had been in the past. "In the past we had to deal with laptops; now we have to deal with 50 different variations of phones, iPods, iPads, Kindles," he said. Furthermore, the new network has to be able to meet the exorbitant wireless demands of the campus.
"Last year, our average wireless connection was about 360 people at a time," Davis said. This year the average is 1,700. Davis attributed this to the proliferation of smartphones and other wireless devices that are connected to the network whenever they are turned on. Essentially, one person using a laptop, an iPhone and an iPad takes up the bandwidth of three people.
Many students who were interviewed were not aware of the security ramifications, or the nuances of the update, and many expressed consternation at the inconveniences that Davis said were unavoidable.
Qingqing Tan '11 reported that she wasn't "able to connect with her iPod touch."
Danica Loucks '13 also could not get online on her iPod touch, although she had "tried the instructions on the IT website."
Lianna Bessette '13 complained that she often had to "turn off the airport and turn it back on to get online."
Noelle Schoettle '13 reported trouble accessing WiFi. "It's been slower. I have to use an Ethernet cable in my room, and it will randomly get cut off," she said.
However, not all students had encountered problems with the new network. Generally, the students who expressed the most vehement frustration with the network had not gone to the IT Help Desk. Johnny Coster '12 works at the Help Desk and he said that immediately after Fall Break "about 50 people per day" came in with problems. Coster noted that while "certain problems take longer to solve than others," almost all issues students brought to the Help Desk were remedied.
Davis understood the annoyance, but maintained that "the goal is to make the network as safe as possible while also being as open and usable as possible." He did acknowledge the issues many students who live in Coles Tower have cited about the weak wireless connection.
Davis explained that the problems stem from the high concentration of users occupying a limited amount of space. He reported that Information Technology is planning "a pilot in Coles Tower. We're upgrading Coles Tower to the next generation of wireless, 11N—it's a lot faster."
Davis encouraged anyone who has been having difficulties with the network to go to the IT website, or to the Help Desk. He urged students to submit feedback about the wireless system to IT so problems can be fixed. He also reported that the new version of Microsoft Office will be available for free on the IT website starting today.