Tour guides often say that a good wireless Internet connection is available everywhere on campus, even in the Bowdoin Pines. Yet over the past few weeks, students have been forced to endure faulty connections, long loading times and inaccessible websites, no matter the location.
"It's definitely been slower," said Yaritza Pena '11. "I've found it to depend on what website I'm using, [and] it's really frustrating because I need to check my email."
Although many students have expressed their unhappiness with the recent problems, Manager of Networking Jason Lavoie said that he has no knowledge of any issues with the wireless connection.
"I don't know about this specific issue, we can certainly look into that," he said. Lavoie then proceeded to suggest some alternatives.
"Wireless is much more convenient...[but] we certainly recommend that if you're using a high bandwidth application or doing something that is really critical, you use wired," he added. "That, far and away, will always have more reliable and much faster performance than wireless."
Yet for some, an Ethernet cable is not the answer.
"I've never really thought about plugging in a cord, just because I can't be bothered," said Michael Hendrickson '13. "I come [to Smith Union] to work a lot, so I'm not going to bring a huge cord."
In response to Hendrickson and others wary of using an Ethernet cord, Lavoie explained that regardless of the recent issues, the Department of Technology (DOT) understood the need to upgrade the current system.
"We do know that we have had, over past months, a steady increase in utilization and we are looking to replace and upgrade the wireless network to something that can handle more traffic," he said.
He revealed that the DOT is looking at two different companies, Cisco and Aruba Networks, to carry out the upgrade. According to Lavoie, the network currently supports up to 54 megabits per access point, and a bandwidth of 2.4 gigahertz. However, Lavoie noted "that's a shared bandwidth, so all the users who are associated with that access point are sharing that 54 megabits, at best, compared to if you plug into the wall you basically get a full gigabit dedicated to your machine."
With upgraded technology from either provider, this offering of 54 megabits per access point would increase to somewhere between 300 and 450 megabits and the bandwidth would more than double to 5 gigahertz, according to Lavoie.
In all probability, this advancement would not mean any additions to the 94 buildings that are currently networked, but would result in the adjustment to aspects of the 16,400-gigabit Ethernet ports and the 370 access points all over campus. Lavoie stated that construction would "require replacing all the access points and controllers to support that additional infrastructure."
Testing of these products has already begun, with the DOT having placed Cisco's new system in Smith Union and Coles Tower.
"It worked great, [and we] found that performance was a lot better," said Lavoie. "[We] chose the Tower because from a radio frequency perspective, [it] is a really difficult place because there's concrete and steel everywhere [which] essentially blocks the frequency's signal."
"It's probably the worst-case scenario, [so] if it performs well in that environment then it'll have a good experience pretty much anywhere else on campus," he added.
Lavoie also revealed that DOT would soon begin testing Aruba's product in the same places, a process which would likely take approximately a month's time. He also estimated that the upgrading process would be completed by the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year.
"I think ideally we'd be making the decision in the next few months and doing the upgrade in the summer," said Lavoie.