Tuesday, June 18

UCLA uses student input to locate Wi-Fi dead zones to begin improving Internet connection

To strategically expand wireless Internet coverage, UCLA is using student input to map out Wi-Fi dead zones on campus.

The map, which will pinpoint the best and worst zones for wireless connection on campus, will help Information Technology Services locate areas at UCLA that need improved signal strength. The project is intended to help UCLA use its limited financial resources more efficiently.

Through a recently launched Facebook page and events to gauge student input, IT Services has learned of the shortcomings of campus wireless networks, said Jacqueline Reynolds, director of the Office of Information Technology.

Testimonies on the UCLA Technology Complaints Facebook page reveal the extent to which inconsistent wireless coverage interferes with students’ daily lives, Reynolds said.

One student on the website discussed downloads disconnecting because of low Internet signals on campus. Others agreed that the lack of connection in common lecture halls such as Franz, Boelter and Rolfe halls posed difficulties for accessing course material during class.

“Wi-Fi is one of the bigger, more important things to have available,” said Daisy Carrillo, a fourth-year biology student. “In classes in the Math Sciences Building, you don’t get Wi-Fi, and a lot of people rely on the Internet to do their work.”

In response, IT Services has prioritized expanding coverage as much as possible, said Mark Bower, director of managed network services for the Office of Information Technology. But because of limited funding, IT Services had to prioritize more frequently accessed locations on campus for coverage, he added.

Locations for UCLA wireless coverage are currently determined both by IT Services and individual departments, both of which have limited funds, Bower said.

In order to make the most of their resources, both the campus and the residence halls now use the same equipment for wireless Internet access, which cuts costs that would otherwise be needed to make different equipment compatible.

“At the end of the day, our interest is as much coverage as possible within the confines of the budget, building a partnership wherever we can,” Bower said. “And the interests of the students and what they are seeking drives the process.”

Student involvement in expanding Internet access dates back to last spring, when IT leadership organized an event that brought students and IT Services together to discuss areas which needed improvement from campus technological sources.

With student input in hand, IT Services and the Undergraduate Students Association Council initiated efforts to implement wireless connection in “general assignment” classrooms ““ lecture halls commonly used for courses from a variety of departments.

Carrillo said she usually uses on-campus computer labs to do her homework, but the inconvenience of walking to the labs could be remedied by more uniform coverage among buildings in South Campus.

Instructors can also benefit from more consistent wireless coverage, said Michael Hall, a graduate student in mathematics. Hall, a teaching assistant, said instructors sometimes rely on wireless connection to conduct classroom activities.

“(Sometimes) I have handouts prepared on the Web,” Hall said. “As an instructor, I like having access for looking stuff up on the Internet or downloading something on my laptop when a classroom does not have a computer.”

In July, IT Services created a phone number students can text to identify places on campus that lack adequate coverage.

By tracking the messages, IT Services can locate areas where wireless connection needs improvement.

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