Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
WiFi was restored to students on the seventh floor of Strath Haven last week after a total loss of connectivity in the apartment building several weeks ago. While ITS has encountered significant difficulties fixing the problem, they express optimism that restoration of service to the rest of Strath’s student population is imminent.
These problems have been present since “the beginning of the semester,” according to Catherine Kelley ‘14, a student in Strath. “Sometimes pages wouldn’t even load, the desktop in our lounge was extremely slow, and overall there was a lot of frustration with the internet,” she said.
This all culminated in a complete wireless outage. ITS helped residents connect to internet through Ethernet. Kelly said, “Having no wifi is a pain. . .but it’s bearable. It isn’t easy if I have friends over to study and they need to use the Internet because we have to share one cord.”
“Swarthmore internet is really shit, but Strath is the bottom of the pile,” said Adrien Guerard ‘14, a Computer Science major living in Strath Haven.
Apparently, technological infrastructure changes quickly. In 2006, PC World rated Swarthmore the 4th most wired school in the country, highlighting its superior Internet connectivity. One doubts the College would receive the same award today.
Earlier in the semester, Guerard tested the internet speed in his dorm, and found that download speeds ranged from 0.19 to 2.09 megabits per second. These were shockingly lower than the values he found at Bryn Mawr, which averaged around 8 megabits per second.
“There have been mistakes, but I’m not pointing the finger,” Guerard said. “I don’t know enough about the problem to point the finger at anyone.”
Nor does he want to come off sounding spoiled. “It’s such a first world problem,” he said. “For me to be complaining is a bit bourgeois.”
The trouble was mostly due to what Aaron Smith, a network engineer, called a “combination of equipment failure which happened in a slow and painful way.” However, “the good news is that the equipment is configured.” he said, “We’re working on finalizing getting the wireless.”
Smith tried to solve the problem remotely with Director of Networking and Telecommunications Mark Dumic, but Smith eventually had to spend several hours working at Strath over multiple days. They considered many different solutions, from setting up a VPN network to using directional antennae.
At the end, they decided to use new equipment to set up a Verizon FiOS small office network connection. “We looked at all the solutions and this seems like the best,” Dumic said. “Hopefully we’re close to the end of the tunnel about this.”
Charles Armstrong ‘13, another student in Strath, was impressed with the effort that ITS made. “In fact, Aaron Smith was almost creepily fast in his response time, and I appreciate that,” he said. However, “not having wireless is isolating as heck given that Facebook and email are more reliable forms of contact for me in my room than my cell phone.”
Adam Aviv, a Computer Science professor, said that because wifi networks attempt to use “radio waves to mimic the same connection as physical networks. . .there are some physical things you have to consider,” such as cinderblock, which is especially tough to transmit through.
One of the physical difficulties ITS faced had to do with getting the connection into the building. Whereas Swarthmore is connected through fiber optic cables, Strath Haven “isn’t connected the same way the rest of campus is,” said Smith. This is mainly because, as Dumic said, “we don’t own the building, so we can’t just run cabling through the parts we don’t own.”