The Australian National University has recently conducted a review of its wireless services. The review examined the current wireless access around the 5 libraries (Arts & Music, Chifley, Hancock East & West, Menzies and the Law Library) on campus as well as the Halls and Colleges.

The current state of wireless access at the ANU often leaves students frustrated with poor connection that consistently drops out. The initial connection to the wireless can be time-consuming, especially when students are pressed for time.

Currently, the library wireless is served through a legacy access point (the current ones used are mainly AP-125s which are 7 years old and AP-135s which are more recent, but less in number), with the signal often wasted due to poor placement of the AP causing unwanted signal reflections. The poor placement has also led to many ‘patchy’ areas where the wireless is much weaker, or in some cases, has no reach.

Furthermore, the initial placement of the current access points failed to take into account high-density study areas within the libraries, which meant that students trying to connect to the wireless in these areas experienced much slower connection speed. The review found that all 5 libraries had ‘inconsistent coverage and coverage holes’, that there was ‘sub-optimal AP mounting (in ceiling spaces with unknown orientation instead of under ceiling tiles) and that across all 5 libraries, the wireless was of ‘poor performance’ and was insufficient for user capacity

The worst offender was Menzies Library and the Arts & Music Library, with Menzies having large coverage gaps due to the lack of access points. The Arts & Music Library was served only by a single access point that had it’s signal wasted and reflected elsewhere due to the proximity of the access point to metal ducting. The best library was found to be Chifley, with ‘ok capacity but mostly poor placement’.

The review of the wireless access at the residential halls and colleges found that ResNet, introduced in 2009 as part of the last major wireless infrastructure project, found that wireless access across all residences were ‘universally thin’, with the except of Lena Karmel Lodge. The review did not make specific comments on each Hall and College on the current state of wireless access, but did make a few general comments.

Firstly, large common areas were found to have some coverage, but were inadequate for the volume of students at peak demands, noting in particular, exam time would lead to poorer connection speeds. Smaller common areas were found to have no wireless coverage at all. Similar to the libraries, the wireless was served by both the older, AP-125s routers in the older residences and the newer, AP-135s in the newer residences. The review did not specify which residences had which model.

The placement of these models were generally poor according to the review, with APs discovered in ‘less than ideal locations’ like switch cabinets, ceiling spaces, and under desks. APs were not placed in effective locations, which reduced the AP’s range, user capacity and performance. The new residences of UniLodge had a specific mention for its better placement and mounting of APs to ensure signals were not absorbed by metal and other obstructions.

The use of concrete slab in all Daley Road buildings also presented as an issue for wireless access. Wi-Fi transparent materials such as gyprock were absent from the construction, which meant that there was a dense matrix of brick wall preventing the movement of the wireless signals. Individuals rooms themselves had a lack of coverage, and when the reviewers did manage to connect, they experienced issues with authentication and random disconnections. The use of “rogue” student Wi-Fi routers was mentioned in the review as the only solution outside of using an Ethernet cable.

The review concluded that the wireless access in residential halls and colleges across campus that the coverage was inadequate, which has led to a variety of issues. The thin coverage meant that too many devices were using a single access point, causing slower speeds. The review also made note of interference from any radio-emitting sources including cordless phones and microwaves.

The review was conducted by Converged Communication Network Association and outlined several key recommendations with the goal of close to 100% coverage in all libraries. The approach recommended new routers, high capacity routers for high-density study areas and lower capacity routers for low-density areas. The new routers recommended were stated to perform 3x faster than the current ones. An increase in the quantity of these routers to ensure libraries did not have ‘coverage gaps’ and that APs should be mounted to a ceiling mount. The review proposed a floor-by-floor coverage map of the recommendations, highlighting that the coverage per AP would be significantly lower, reducing poor connection speeds.

The recommendations set out for the Halls and Colleges outlined several key approaches that were integral for providing wireless access for students. The first was to use in-room access points, meaning that every room would have a router. This allows for better coverage within all residences. The second was to redeploy existing wireless infrastructure to optimise performance in order to extract several more years from the 2009 investment. In addition to these recommendations, the review proposed that newer models should be introduced in common areas to meet student demand.

Implementation of these recommendations are met with several challenges; buildings are different in layout and need to be carefully planned out and evaluated before moving onto the next. The coverage plan proposed means that campus infrastructure must be completed and installed before the residences’ AP can be installed and joined to the new network.

Whether or not these recommendations come to fruition remains yet to be seen – the costing outlined in the review reaches almost $100,000 for the library update, and upwards of $800,000 for the residential update. The review makes it very clear that the current wireless is inadequate for staff members, students and system administrators. The ANU will be doing a quick update of the library Wi-Fi over the summer; however, it is unclear whether this will be as thorough as the recommendations outline. However, if ANU does decide to go ahead, the report stipulates the update could be completed within a short period of time, which means current students will be able to use the update wireless services.

Albert Patajo is a third year Law/Science student who often procrastinates by reading and occasionally writing. You can find his work here: https://medium.com/@thealbertjames/