Georgetown University Information Services is planning a five-year campus-wide Wi-Fi infrastructure overhaul that will cost $20-25 million starting in spring 2017 to combat aging Wi-Fi equipment in various buildings around campus, in an effort to provide students with a faster and more resilient Wi-Fi network.
According to Interim Chief Information Officer Judd Nicholson, the university has been planning a large Wi-Fi overhaul for the past two years.
Nicholson said the overhaul will bring much-needed relief to buildings on campus with older Wi-Fi systems in place.
“Part of that framework is to address our aging infrastructure, so uplifting and modernizing the Wi-Fi infrastructure, which is sorely needed across Georgetown in particular the academic buildings like [the Rafik B. Hariri Building], the [Intercultural Center] and the Pre-Clinical Science building,” Nicholson said.
According to UIS, over the past three years, the amount of devices using the internet has risen by 50 percent and the Wi-Fi bandwidth usage saw a 36 percent increase during the 2015-16 academic year.Nicholson said the current Wi-Fi systems cannot handle this large volume of traffic due to age.
“We just can’t handle the capacity because of the age of the equipment around campus,” Nicholson said.
The project will cost between $4 and $5 million dollars per year over five years, according to Nicholson.
Currently, four companies – AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, CenturyLink and Windstream – are vying for the contract.
According to Nicholson, while planning the upgrade, the university sent out requests for proposal to telecommunications companies to express the needs and goals of the potential Wi-Fi upgrade.
UIS is still in the process of selecting a company and finalizing a contract. Nicholson said UIS hopes to finalize the plan and to have a contract completed by the end of the semester.
Nicholson said the first three years of the Wi-Fi upgrade process will be devoted to phasing out the oldest equipment on campus and then the last two years will involve maintenance and upgrades to other campus buildings.
According to Nicholson, the upgrade will look to improve the Wi-Fi in residential areas on campus as well.
“We are also going to try to include all of the buildings at Georgetown. That includes some of townhouses and, of course, the residence halls,” Nicholson said.
In addition to faster internet, Nicholson said the overhaul will allow it to be more resilient against denial of service cyberattacks like the one the university experienced in the spring, which caused widespread Wi-Fi outages.
“These large telecommunication companies have tools that we will be able to implement to limit the amount of effect that a denial of service has on Georgetown,” Nicholson said. “We will get another level of security on our network and in some ways the ability to mitigate the impact of a denial of service.”
Nicholson said the project would not involve any major construction but has the potential to be disruptive. UIS will aim to time the disruptions during non-academic periods and times of low internet usage, according to Nicholson.
UIS Chief of Operations and Senior Director for IT Infrastructure Scott Allen said certain wireless access
points, like those in the Hariri building, are inundated with users, slowing down connections speeds. The upgrade aims to fix this issue especially in buildings with older Wi-Fi hardware.
“The replacement project will upgrade the wireless AP to new technology that will improve the speed and add new radios to spread the load out more evenly. The Hariri, ICC and the Preclinical Science buildings are in the most need of upgrades,” Allen wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Allen said that while download speeds vary with the amount of people using the internet, buildings with older Wi-Fi infrastructure can have significantly slower download speeds compared to buildings with new Wi-Fi hardware like Lauinger Library, which had its Wi-Fi equipment replaced last year.
“It isn’t unusual to see download performance on the oldest wireless APs – ICC, Preclin, Hariri – at about 2 Megabits per second,” Allen wrote. “I was in the Pierce Reading room in Lauinger last week and recorded about 114 Mbps download on my laptop.”
According to Nicholson, after the upgrade is done students in buildings currently with poor Wi-Fi like the ICC will see a large improvement in internet service.
“Students in those particular buildings and in Pre-Clinical Science on the Medical Center would notice a marked improvement in the ability to connect and the ability and the speed of the network,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said the upgrade is crucial for Georgetown and hopes students will be satisfied with positive changes in the works.
“This would be a major [information technology] investment that is definitely needed at Georgetown and we are very excited to do this project and to really see the impact to the user experience,” Nicholson said. “Students will be very pleased with the changes that we are making and we just want to get things moving very rapidly.”
Jordan Dow (MED ’17) said he appreciates the university’s efforts to maintain the Wi-Fi and is thankful for the opportunity to access the Internet.
“The amenities here are incredible and people should just be grateful,” Dow said.
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