UConn Wi-Fi is currently in the midst of a complete and total update. The project, called the Network Refresh Project, will either update or replace nearly all the wireless infrastructure on campus as well as the regional campuses. This includes overhauling buildings cabling, equipment and facilities. Currently, there are 108 buildings that UConn Information Technology Services has begun work on to bring them up to current standards, with 95 buildings on the future execution schedule and 82 buildings that are considered complete.
Mike Williams is the director of telecommunications at UConn ITS. He spoke about why students may be having a hard time with finding a strong connection to UConn Wi-Fi. He said that much of the physical infrastructure that makes up the wireless network is older and needs to be updated.
“The Alumni buildings, all four of the residence buildings in Alumni, as well as all four buildings in West, currently have designs ready for re-cabling of the buildings that are scheduled to occur unfortunately next summer,” Williams said. “So now the infrastructure in those buildings is old. It’s very old. It’s about 30 years old in terms of the cabling that services all the access points, so that’s going to provide some limitations in the performance of the Wi-Fi.”
Williams discussed why older cable might provide some limitations, explaining that right now, the older cables have limited throughput, which essentially means the amount of data that runs through the system is constricted by the infrastructure. According to Williams, updating the cable infrastructure should noticeably improve the Wi-Fi for students and it will be bi-directional.
“[W]hen we recable it next summer, it will go to the current standard of cabling and it will allow us to have the current lingo of today, industry standard people refer to it as a gigabit, the reality is it’s going to be less than a gigabit that you realize in terms of the actual throughput, but it’ll be a contemporary speed and it’ll be bi-directional,” Williams said.
Williams elaborated upon the bi-directional aspect of the new wireless infrastructure, saying that a more bi-directional system will allow students to run certain programs better and give students better upload speeds.
“[M]ost traditional cable modems have a big download speed, and not a big upload, so one of the things that our network does is it provides a symmetrical connection where you’re going to have similar speeds up and down. That really was exposed during the pandemic when everyone went into lockdown and everyone was doing zoom calls from home and everyone had their frames dropping… so people turned their video off,” Williams said.
Williams said that another example of a building that needs to be updated is McMahon Residence Hall. He additionally said that Homer Babbidge Library is undergoing a similar overhaul.
“[McMahon] is scheduled for repair in the summer of 2023. And as far as the library goes, we actually have a designer currently working on designs to recable the library building,” Williams said.
Williams said the library presented ITS with some unique challenges as it is one of the largest and most used buildings on campus.
Williams said that if students do experience performance issues with the Wi-Fi they should contact ITS and tell them about it.
“If you’re experiencing a performance problem, it’s our job to go out and fix it. If there’s something we can do to go out and mitigate it, if there’s an area that’s a more popular place to go study that has poor coverage, we simply might not know about it,” Williams said. “What we encourage people to do is to not stay silent about it, but let us know.”
Williams said UConn ITS will investigate all problems and install new access points in the dark spots that do arise.
Williams said that the reason why ITS has not scheduled work to be done on McMahon Residence Hall until summer of 2023 is because not all residence halls can be worked on at the same time, as Wi-Fi may be unavailable during these projects.
“McMahon, Alumni and West are all heavily used during summer programs for the university. They can’t take off all three of them at once, so there is other work that is planned that is needed in Alumni this coming summer, so we’re actually going to dovetail our effort with those other projects and then McMahon is going to stay online, and then the following year McMahon will be offline and West and Alumni will be the housing,” Williams said.
In terms of the ITS Network Refresh Project, Williams said that residence halls have been prioritized so students will see the updates as soon as possible.
“Our focus is how do we get the work done as quickly as possible. So, we’ve organized it into a five-year program and we’ve been getting funding annually for portions of the program … We recently were approved by the board of trustees to Alumni, West, and all the other buildings you see on the list for fiscal year 2022,” Williams said. “We’ve made a pretty significant effort to prioritize the resident halls as much as we could early in the project.”
Williams said the Network Refresh Program will provide UConn the framework for a constant update of infrastructure to keep UConn Wi-Fi as strong as possible.
“We initiated it because we needed to have a strategic and systematic approach to replacing network equipment. Cabling has a life cycle that might extend 10, 15, 20, 25 years. Network equipment has a shorter life cycle,” Williams said. “We chose to pursue it in a strategic way for five years because what the industry trend is for network equipment is to really have a five to a seven-year lifecycle and ideally once we’re complete here that will allow us to get into a refresh cycle on a regular basis.”
All information regarding the UConn ITS Network Refresh Project and a timetable of when each building will be updated is available on the UConn ITS website.