Examining the cause behind the March WiFi outage

It’s very obvious to everyone that the WiFi was less than stellar for the end of February and throughout March, having an effect on Uni’s increasingly online learning curriculum. The WiFi issues started appearing around the 24th of February and were seen as temporary, but now that it is almost mid-March and the issues are still with us, it’s clear that these issuse have gone on for a strikingly long time. Knowing this, it’s useful to take a step back and try to make sense of this rare situation.

At the head of solving this issue is Damian Behymer, the IT specialist at Uni. I talked to Damian about what we’re experiencing inorder to see what’s causing these wifi issues and what we can do about them. All though it’s true Uni’s WiFi has had issues in the past, they were always temporary and could be fixed by IT anytime. This issue is very different and well above the abilities of the local IT, as it is more extreme and has affected the entire University of Illinois. One thing I gathered from talking to Damian was that this problem is surrounded by a lot of mystery, and even Damian, an IT specialist, doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle.

Things like the inconsistent connection of the WiFi between different areas and different times of the day as well as the reason why the problem has persisted for so long still remains a mystery.

All this being said, we know enough to get a rough understanding of the situation. One thing we know for sure is that problems are related to the wireless network, not the wired one. However, Damian has made it very clear that students should not be plugging their computer into random outlets in the wall, because doing so could cause security issues with your own computer and the network. Another thing that is clear is that it is not an issue with the extremely powerful arpanet (nationwide network infrastructure that includes the U of I) but instead is an issue with the white rectangular access points that tie together the network seen across campus in almost every room. These access points are run by the company Aruba who have created the system that works in conjunction with the Arpanet and helps give our campus network the illusion of being one big network rather than many small WiFi hotspots. This is the same company who is working to fix the connectivity issues.

On March 9, before spring break, workers from Aruba went to explore the issue and install a firmware update that may have solved (or at least improved) the WiFi situation on campus. Until the solution is solved, Damian is working personally to help teachers having trouble in their classrooms at Uni and provide temporary fixes. As far as events that revolve around quality, consistent connections like online standardized testing, like the upcoming Subbie testing, Uni is prepared to work with technology services to set up a space for a wired connection so that the testing can go uninterrupted. Clearly, Uni has experienced a WiFi slump but it’s looking like it won’t last long and in the meantime Damian is able to help solve issues as they come.