Faulty wireless causes missed connections

by Beacon Staff • November 2, 2005

Sophomore journalism major Matthew Porter said that while the wireless last year was bad, cutting in and out even in supposedly wired areas like the library, this year the service is nonexistent.,"As midterms came and went, Emerson's wireless Internet network remained in disrepair, frustrating many students who rely on the service for mobility with their laptops.

Sophomore journalism major Matthew Porter said that while the wireless last year was bad, cutting in and out even in supposedly wired areas like the library, this year the service is nonexistent.

"With Boston talking about going completely wireless in the next few years, how can one of the most technologically cutting-edge schools in the city not have a solid wireless system?" Porter asked.

Richard Grossman, Emerson's director of networking and telecommunications, said the system has been experiencing problems since it was first installed this summer. Many students said they have been unable to consistently access a wireless signal in the library, dorms and classrooms.

According to Grossman, the major disruption in the wireless service is due to overlapping wireless signals, which he said are caused by individual student wireless systems set up in the residence halls. Grossman said students are prohibited from setting up their own routers and other wireless systems under The Emerson Electronic Information Policy Guidelines, which mandate that on-campus students requiring a wireless connection use ECMobile, the service provided by the college.

Grossman said the wireless restriction is in place to prevent students from broadcasting the network to off-campus buildings, which would jeopardize the safety of student information.

He said some students are ignoring the policy and purchasing their own outside wireless connections and labeling them "ECMobile" on their computers. When other students attempt to connect to the ECMobile server, they may actually be connecting to an unauthorized wireless network, Grossman said.

Despite the school policy, 15 to 20 students have been discovered using outside wireless equipment, Grossman said. When caught, students are first asked to shut the equipment off, Grossman said, and if they fail to comply, the school will shut down the student's ethernet jack.

Some students said they feel unauthorized networks cannot be the reason why ECMobile is malfunctioning. Off-campus senior TV/video major Arthur Nicholls said that he has several wireless networks in his apartment building, and that those networks do not seem to interfere with each other.

Nicholls also said he has had problems connecting to the wireless service in the Walker and Ansin buildings. Nicholls said it would be highly unlikely that the wireless signals generated by on-campus students would be strong enough to go from the Little Building into surrounding buildings.

"I can't really blame students for having rogue networks that go hundreds of feet away into another building," Nicholls said.

Nate Berends, a freshman marketing communications major, had one of these "rogue" networks. Since his Emerson wireless connection was not working, he purchased Apple's AirPort Express, a wireless router.

Emerson quickly detected Berends' unauthorized connection, shut off the ethernet jack in his room and did not reconnect service for a week, Berends said.

"The bottom line is that, as a dorm-dwelling Emersonian, I have been extraordinarily disappointed with ECMobile," Berends said.

Some students who live off campus said they are also frustrated with the system.

"I'm living off campus for the first time now, and I find that I prefer leaving schoolwork at school," said Stephanie Appell, a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major. "I like to do a lot of studying and writing in the library, and it would be great to have a reliable wireless network in there."

Grossman said the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the system that secures ECMobile, offers better resources than the previous wireless system.

The WPA offers greater security and direct connection to the student network, Grossman said.

"Using WPA in an urban area is very difficult," Grossman said. "Our goal is to achieve service and options that are equivalent to a wired connection, and that requires pretty new technology. It is something that's on the forefront of our minds and it's something that we are working to fix."

Grossman said manufacturing representatives from Nortel are coming to Emerson next week to fine-tune the wireless channels used by ECMobile.

Grossman said if the problems persist, the college will decide whether or not to stay with the new system.

"The new WPA system's encryption is very sensitive to overlap of wireless devices, so our next task is finding out where students are when they are experiencing these problems," Grossman said.

He also said that representatives were at Emerson in early October, at which point the college reported all of the system's problems.

Gillian Smith, a junior marketing communications major, said that isn't enough. "IT [Information Technology] knows that ECMobile is a problem, and they've known since school started," Smith said. "It's been almost two months, and they have made no visible progress, nor told the students what's going on. They don't seem to care about us anymore, and we all know that this situation is ridiculous."

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