As students and faculty snap up smartphones, U of T aims to make Wi-Fi fast and ubiquitous
“Unable to connect to network”: It’s a message that every student dreads, but many were receiving last year – particularly at U of T’s largest library – as the growing use of smartphones and tablet computers caused demand for campus wireless access to soar.
In the past several months, however, improvements to the network have caused service complaints to mostly evaporate. Since fall 2010, the university’s information technology department has launched two rounds of upgrades, resulting in expanded Wi-Fi coverage on all three campuses and vastly improved connection speeds.
The second phase – to be completed this fall – will extend coverage to popular outdoor spaces, such as Willcocks Common and the Sid Smith patio.
The university has also simplified what many users complained was an overly complex login procedure. Whereas users previously had to authenticate themselves twice and log in anytime their connection was dropped, the new system requires just a single authentication and remembers users anywhere on the three campuses. This means that for each device they own, students and faculty only ever have to log in once. “It makes it easy to roam from building to building and from campus to campus and stay connected,” says Patrick Hopewell, director of enterprise infrastructure solutions. A third round of improvement, to be launched next year, will “saturate” coverage on all three campuses, he adds.
Prior to the upgrades, inconsistent service acted as a lightning rod for student dissatisfaction, says Hopewell.
With the recent improvements, the number of complaints has dropped significantly, observes James Lawson, the help services manager at Robart’s Library’s Information Commons. “There are some specific devices that have trouble connecting, but the overall experience has moved from a high volume of complaints that we couldn’t do anything about to very infrequent ones.”