Wireless Coverage at RGU

We’ve had a few issues with our wireless network over the past few weeks – apologies for that to our staff and students. Without going into the details, there were a number of unexpected issues with the central controllers and we’ve been in regular contact with the supplier and manufacturer to get these sorted. We still have some background work to do in order to get to the root cause of the issues, but we have an interim solution in place now and the service itself is much more stable for our users. We are, as it happens, shortly going to install a new Wireless Network Infrastructure anyway to meet the requirements of the new Riverside East building down at Garthdee, and to meet the growth in demand for coverage across the whole of the Garthdee Campus.

Use of wireless networks, as we all know, has exploded over the last few years to the point where we increasingly take it for granted that we will have wireless access in many public spaces and places of work. In designing our “Riverside East” new building down at the Garthdee Campus, we were clear from the outset that we wished to see wireless coverage available within the entire building. Our current wireless infrastructure varies across the Campus. When it was first implemented, the intention was to make sure that the key “public” areas were wireless enabled, including the core committee rooms, library and teaching areas. But, it was not designed to be a complete solution – especially in our older buildings it did not at the time make sense to attempt to put wireless coverage into every single room.

Requirements change, however, and with the range of mobile devices in use today complete wireless coverage is now a growing expectation, and we are receiving requests for the wireless service to be extended to areas that currently have poor coverage. As mentioned above, we are starting the process of refreshing our wireless network with the new Riverside East building in the first instance. We need to get that building commissioned as our first priority, but whatever solution we procure for that will be sized so that it can be expanded across to the rest of the Campus.

Installing a wireless network in a large building with thousands of users is a complex task. Wireless signals are broadcast by what we call “wireless access points” – you’ve probably seen them on the wall around the campus. Each access point can only handle a limited number of connections without losing performance, and it must not be too close to another access point using the same radio frequency, and there is a limited number of radio frequencies that by law we are allowed to use. So, we have to position the access points across the building (vertically as well as horizontally) to match what we think the demand will be in each area and configure them so that they don’t interfere with each other. To achieve that, we need to calculate how far each signal will broadcast and that depends on the construction materials used in the building. Early on in the design of the building, we put the CAD drawings through a software programme which calculates how the wireless signal will behave theoretically and we use that to estimate where the access points should go. That is only an approximate guide, however, and once the building is complete engineers have to physically walk through the building to measure the actual signal loss in each area before they can finalise where all the access points should go.

Even having done all of that, there are still some limitations on wireless technology. If you are doing heavy downloads of large files, and particularly if there are a number of people doing that in the same physical location, you may find that the wireless network will slow down – that’s just the laws of physics and how much traffic can be carried across one radio signal in one location. That said, we are looking at newer wireless technologies that will improve performance even in areas of dense use. So, while there might still be some occasions where it is better to “plug in”, for most everyday tasks – email, web browsing, Facebook usage etc the new wireless network will be fine.

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