Keeping pace: WSU expands wireless service

Weber State University is expanding its digital infrastructure to keep pace with a booming demand for wireless Internet and to prepare for a future when the printed textbook is an artifact of higher education.

“We never thought four years ago that we would be hitting the capacity for wireless Internet,” said Bill Fruth, director of the Shepherd Union Building. “Technology is changing rapidly and we’re just trying to keep pace with it.”

Campus wireless traffic is ten times greater than it was five years ago, said Andy Chen, the director of enterprise business computing in the Information Technology Department. The advent of iPods, iPhones, Androids, tablets and other mobile internet devices wasn’t forseen a few years ago when laptops were the only electronics tapping into the bandwidth, Fruth said.

“We’ve got to be able to meet those needs today,” Fruth said. “We know those needs are only going to grow.”

The Technology Department has used special softwear to moniter demand for wireless internet. Each night, the softwear records how many people used the wireless service during the day.

The Union Building will be the first campus facility to receive an upgrade. The nearly $60,000 expansion of wireless internet service is scheduled to be complete in the next couple weeks. The upgrade will include forty new access points with greater range that can serve more people and upgrades to existing access points. The access points connect to a switch in the building that links to WSU’s data center in the Technical Education building. They’ll help WSU remain an attractive location for large conferences in which hundreds of people could be demanding bandwidth, Chen said.

Immediately after the Union Building is complete, the Stewart Library will also receive significant upgrades to it’s wireless network. The Library needs more work than the Union Building, Chen said, and upgrades there will cost nearly $70,000.

“The library wasn’t upgraded for a while,” Chen said.

The access points create a private cloud, or perimeter around the Union Building in which students and other patrons of WSU are able to access the internet. Chen said WSU is one of the more innovative campuses in Utah when it comes wireless internet.

“I think Weber is one of the forerunners,” Chen said. “The other universities just talk about it.”

WSU will also expanding it’s wireless cloud to areas in Richfield and Davis county, Chen said.

“We have a lot of work,” Chen said. “You’ll have less and less students on campus. You don’t have to come to campus you can work from outside. You have a more online student.”

He said the university believes fewer students will take their classes on campus as the online classroom improves and becomes more accessible.

Chen said WSU’s wireless capacity in respective buildings will need upgrades every three years. The upgrades and expansions are part of a five year plan to prepare for a modernized classroom in which students will access textbooks on tablets online, Chen said.

“They’ll read the textbook from online, the professor will talk to them online,” Chen said.

A special team has been established to prepare for the changes, Chen said. Part of their job is to ensure the networks are safeguarded from non-sanctioned users and hackers.

For many students, it’s a good thing WSU is expanding it’s wireless capacity.

“I’m on my phone all the time,” said Blake Bellingham, a WSU jn. “I come up hear and I do homework and I have to look up some references or some information online. I’m always looking stuff up.”