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Note: This column is part of a new semi-regular feature that highlights current events in UIT's network operations group.

Network News: Device-dedicated wireless network in pilot phase

Trial of "ULink" underway in some student housing locations

By Jesse Drake

In an effort to improve the wireless experience for students, UIT’s Network Team is conducting a pilot program in campus housing on a new University wireless network called ULink.

ULink is a dedicated network for devices that do not use certificate-based authentication methods, such as gaming consoles (e.g. Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii) and other entertainment devices (e.g. Apple TV, Roku, and TiVo). According to Trevor Long, associate director for UIT Network & Core, 350 devices in Housing & Residential Education, Marriott Honors Community, Downtown Commons, and Lassonde Studios have utilized the new network to date.

There are a variety of motivations behind creating a fourth network in addition to UConnect, UGuest, and Eduroam. These include: 

  • Diverting device-based traffic frees up space on other campus WiFi networks and improves overall network performance
  • ULink discourages the installation of personal wireless routers (a.k.a., rogue access points), which deteriorate the U’s campus network and in some cases, make WiFi unusable
  • Moving devices off UGuest, a limited, unencrypted network, improves the University’s security posture
  • Users in the pilot are issued a password and simple registration instructions, making it easy for anyone unfamiliar with device onboarding procedures

"UIT recognizes the need to provide easy connection methods for this rapidly growing device type, but also wants to protect user data by applying appropriate security policies," said Sr. Network Engineer Curtis Larsen.

To encourage the proper use of ULink, the 10 most commonly used applications are restricted: UMail, PeopleSoft applications (e.g., Campus Information Systems), Marriott Library research databases, Skype for Business, Box, Canvas, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Please note that UConnect is intended for students' phones, laptops, and tablets, while UGuest is designed for short-term visitors. ULink is designed for devices which may not be capable of connecting to enterprise networks, but are not appropriate for an unencrypted connection.

“ULink” is what’s known as a Service Set Identifier (SSID), the name used by client devices to identify and join Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs), such as UConnect. ULink was chosen with input from a variety of stakeholders, including students. It generally embodies the purpose of the network but is agnostic enough to outlive changes in technology. “UDevice,” for example, was deemed too limiting should the SSID one day extend beyond devices.

Long presented an update on the ULink pilot program to the U's Architecture and New Technology Committee in August (summary). Long has consulted with the IT Enterprise Architecture Team and is in the data-gathering phase. Next steps involve a more intensive review with the Information Security Office, continuing discussions with the Community of Practice and IT Governance committees, and executing a communication plan.

The pilot will be evaluated again in the spring. If all goes well, including IT architecture, governance, and security approvals, ULink has the potential to be released campus-wide in summer 2018 as the University’s Internet of Things (IoT) network.

Last Updated: 6/14/19