The campus is undergoing a wireless Internet upgrade that began in the summer at a cost of $694,000.
To satisfy what she called an “insatiable demand” for improving wireless at UTM in the face of the increasing use of devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, Susan Senese, the new director of information and instructional technology services, oversaw the wireless remediation project.
“There’s been a significant investment [of] time and money throughout the campus to augment the wireless services for all students, staff, and faculty,” said Senese in an interview.
The upgrade took three weeks in August, with the last installation happening in the two days before classes began. IITS staff completed planning, got quotes, brought vendors to campus, and determined where they needed to place or replace equipment before beginning installation. In some cases, they moved access points from hallways to suites in the residences.
Senese and Mike Young, a system analyst with UTM’s Network Services, attributed the need to upgrade the system to a sudden surge in wireless devices, including the problem of increasing density—students bringing multiple devices with them at the same time, which according to Senese is a growing trend at universities. The upgrade specifically accommodated smartphones and tablets, said Young.
Young said that the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre and some residences—namely, Oscar Peterson Hall, Roy Ivor Hall, and Erindale Hall—underwent upgrades. The townhouses and the other academic buildings are currently in the process of being upgraded.
The wireless service in the residences and in the library, which is used by 10,000 students a day, needed to be “flawless”, according to Senese.
According to Young, the three separate UTM networks available prior to the upgrade—U of T, UTMRes, and UTMRes1x—were reduced to one by sourcing all equipment from one provider, Meru, to emulate the one network available to students at the St. George and Scarborough campuses and simplify technical issues.
“We’ve seen an enormous decrease in complaints that were related to equipment failure and coverage problems,” said Young. “The general frustration level went down, not just of our staff but, more importantly, for the students.”
This year, for the first time, a IT support student staff member was on hand during the residence move-in days this year to assist students in connecting.
The $694,000 for the project came from the university’s operating budget; not all of it has been spent yet. Of what has been spent, $66,000 went to the library and $283,000 in the residences. About $345,000 remains to be spent in the remaining academic buildings.
Sixty additional wireless access points were added in the library, and 220 in OPH, Roy Ivor, and Erindale, with 150 additional points to be installed in the academic buildings and townhouses next term. A total of 45 kilometres of new wireless cabling has been and will be installed.
The quality of wireless has notoriously been an issue for students, even before the surge. As Young pointed out, in past years access could sometimes be lost after closing the door to a room. The heavy use of concrete in several UTM buildings’ construction also inhibited the signal.
“We’re firing at that moving target—wireless,” said Young in an interview. “Wireless was really identified as the one major service that students just can’t live without.”