Frustrations Persist Over Pomona Wireless Internet Access

“Problems with network connectivity across the campus,” blares the top of Pomona College Information Technology Services’ (ITS) website. While the announcement, dated Sept. 22, is the only recent posting regarding network faultiness, Hannah Pivo PO ’14 considers the incident nothing out of the ordinary.

“The wireless network is completely unreliable, and that’s not conducive to a Pomona College student’s lifestyle,” she said.

Pivo is not alone in her frustrations. Stephanie Saxton PO ’12 has had her own share of network problems, especially in her current room in Pomona Hall, one of the two new North Campus residence halls that opened this summer.

“If I don’t have my Ethernet [cable] plugged in, then the Internet is just not functional for me,” Saxton said. “We can’t have more than three people in our common room using Internet at the same time; otherwise it just doesn’t work.”

For prospective Pomona students, however, the school paints a very different picture from the one that Pivo and Saxton described.

“I remember when I toured Pomona, and they told me that we had one of the best Wi-Fi’s outside of any college,” Pivo said. “In reality, we are completely lacking in that department, and I feel it’s misleading for the tours to present that to the students.”

According to Admissions Officer and Tour Guide Supervisor Samantha Jones PO ’10, tour guides are instructed to mention Pomona’s campus-wide wireless network while passing through the Mudd-Blaisdell courtyard. Jones asserted that the information given on the tours regarding Pomona’s wireless network is not as misleading as some students suggest.

“[The wireless network] is still relatively a new development for the campus, but on tours we let the students know that this is something that we do offer,” she said. “It’s something that [was integrated] because of student interest, and so while it’s not perfect, I don’t think it’s necessarily a misrepresentation.”

ITS Network Architecture Manager Pat Flannery also supported what is said on student tours, adding that ITS has continued to increase coverage over the years.

“[Pomona] provides some great outdoor areas to work and enjoy. We do provide coverage when and where it is possible, and as wireless technology improves I know we can extend the coverage even farther,” Flannery wrote in an e-mail.

According to some students, however, Pomona’s Internet problems are not limited to outdoor locations. Some students expressed frustration with wireless access in buildings, specifically when encountering dead spots in their rooms.

“I know that we have workers at ITS that walk around with this tool that tells them where dead spots are in a building, and then they try and improve it by putting up more access points,” said a student worker for ITS who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But I still think it’s a big problem that there are a lot of dead spots across campus… especially in buildings like Oldenborg, which has really thick walls.”

The school has made attempts to improve coverage. In the past three years, Pomona has invested over half a million dollars in the wireless network and has taken significant steps to increase the number of Access Points (APs), which transmit the wireless signal. According to Pomona’s Director of Network Services Anthony Nguyen, over a dozen APs were added to Lawry Court this summer and the older APs in Harwood were replaced.

According to Student Assistant to the Network Architecture Manager Nick Bordner PO ’13, however, there is a difference between wireless Internet coverage and performance.

“Pomona College’s wireless coverage is excellent in its own right and in comparison to other similar colleges,” Bordner wrote in an e-mail to The Student Life. “However, students are correct that this does not always mean that there is good performance everywhere. Wireless performance is one of the most finicky things in the IT world, largely because anything/everything about an environment can influence performance, making troubleshooting very difficult.”

Nguyen confirmed that other factors affect the speed of the Internet, including radio frequency interference.

“All the wireless devices, besides computers, add to the noise that the wireless network has to contend with to try and provide a good signal,” Nguyen said. “You can have a good signal and then your next-door neighbor decides to microwave a bag of popcorn and suddenly your YouTube video stops playing.”

To minimize interference, Bordner suggested using Ethernet to download large files and advised against having a personal router or AP, as they interfere with ITS’s APs. He added that if students report slow connectivity, ITS runs diagnostic tests to pinpoint the interference. In order for ITS to evaluate the area, however, students must first report the problem.

“It’s amazing how many people complain about the wireless in a building and assume that somebody else has reported it,” Bordner said. “In reality, ITS rarely gets reports about wireless problems. We can’t troubleshoot if we don’t know where the problem is.”

Even in areas with good coverage, outages can still compromise connectivity. Nguyen said the wireless network is monitored 24 hours a day by software that alerts workers to outages, and there have only been two incidents so far this year of network failure. Nguyen said an update has been released to fix the most recent problem, an issue with router memory that was cited on the ITS website Sept. 22. The other failure occurred on Sept. 7 and was a problem with the Internet Service Provider, according to representatives from Harvey Mudd College’s (HMC) Computing and Information Services (CIS) Department, which manages the input of all Internet access to the Claremont Colleges.

“That was an external outage away from the colleges that we had no direct control over,” HMC Network Manager Roger Wiechman said. “During that outage, of course, we notified our upstream providers and they investigated, located the problem, and fixed it,” he said, adding that the outage lasted about an hour.

Weichman and the staff at CIS play a central role in maintaining wireless Internet access at the Claremont Colleges because HMC manages all 7C wireless networks. CINE (Claremont Intercollegiate Networking Effort), launched in 2001, was the first wireless Internet network on the campuses.

“It was always perceived to be a 5C, or 7C as the case may be, universal type thing that would act the same no matter what college you were on,” Wiechman said.

CINE is still available to all members of the Claremont University Consortium (CUC), although there are plans to discontinue it. Wiechman said there is also the “Claremont-WPA” network, an encrypted wireless system intended to prevent eavesdropping, and the “Claremont” network, a portal and web-based interface.

With the expansion of Internet access at the colleges in 2007, however, some schools chose to go their separate ways. According to Wiechman, Pomona adopted its own Aruba controller system, while Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and Claremont Graduate University (CGU) chose their own Cisco controllers. HMC, Scripps College, and Pitzer College still operate on the same Cisco controller system.

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