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Campus-wide physical wireless survey: an update

In May 2016, University Information Technology contracted with a consultant to begin a huge endeavor: a physical wireless survey of over 200 buildings across campus. With Wi-Fi and cellular traffic becoming ever more congested, the University made the decision to administer a physical survey to help identify “under-served” areas around campus.

Simply getting access into over 200 buildings was no small feat.

“It was a challenge just to get into all the spaces in the buildings we wanted to survey, over the course of a month” said Earl Lewis, project manager for the UIT Project Management Office. “It actually went really, really well, as far as the pace of the survey is concerned. We got lots of much needed help, coordinating with people in some of our secure areas.”

Earl Lewis, project manager (PMO)

The physical survey has been completed and the results are being compiled into reporting that will be shared with management and IT professionals across campus. In addition to Wi-Fi, the survey also included cellular and public safety coverage, the results of which will be handed over to the teams in charge of improving those areas.

“What we’re trying to do at this point is just organize all the reporting,” said Lewis. “There was a huge amount of data collected; now we need to be able to consume and disseminate it.”

Lewis expects most of the reporting and results to be back by the end July. After the initial reporting is done, the consultant will do a gap analysis of the Wi-Fi coverage. This will help identify where gaps exist and determine if coverage needs to be improved in those areas.

If you look at a typical classroom or auditorium, Lewis said, “How many students can be served by the Wi-Fi that’s being provided in the classroom, given what was found in the survey and the actual coverage requirements?”

It’s a question that’s needed to be asked for a long time, and there are likely to be many more analyses that will come out of the reporting.

While you might think the most accurate results would come from surveying a building at peak usage times, multiple times a day, that notion simply isn’t true.

“You don’t need to survey while there are lots of people using the network,” said Lewis. “You simply need to know what the signal strengths are, and the capabilities of the network devices; then, you can predict when they’re essentially going to max out.”

“The consultants were using very specialized, fit-for-purpose equipment,” Lewis added. “This was a very specifically-designed kind of study and we’re excited about what it’s going to enable us to do with wireless networks across campus.”

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Last Updated: 5/31/22