Want better wireless? Try talking about it

Lack of communication deemed root of computer problems

· February 20, 2007, 5:00 am

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College freshmen Kevin Liang (left) and Jason Yoon (right) use the wireless Internet connection in the Hill College House Computer Lab.


Before connecting students to the Internet, Penn computing officials may need to connect with students first.

Communication problems between students and technology administrators are preventing Penn computing from ironing out all the connectivity problems in Penn's residential wireless network, AirPennNet, officials say.

All 11 college houses and Sansom Place are supposed to be able to connect to the network.

But after receiving a slew of complaints about holes in the network, computing officials installed 45 more access points, known as APs - electronic devices that provide connectivity throughout on-campus housing facilities - over the course of last semester said Michael Palladino, associate vice president for networking at Penn.

But these problems, officials say, can only be addressed if they are reported.

"You can't check people's rooms," said Marilyn Spicer, associate director for college house computing. "So if students hit a dead spot, they need to tell us. We can't fix problems we don't know about."

College sophomore Wilson Tong, the Undergraduate Assembly's chairman of the facilities and campus planning committee, likewise pointed to communication issues as a major source of the problem.

"There's always information being missed on both sides," he said.

Another obstacle keeping students from getting consistent access to the wireless networks is an incompatibility between the wireless software needed to access the network and certain computers, said Engineering senior Philip Ng, who is an information technology advisor.

The wireless program "ensures security on every computer," he said. Sometimes, "it may conflict with the configuration settings on the computer."

Other students say that, in addition, the network still proves faulty and unreliable at best.

"It's kind of frustrating because we have to keep signing in, and [the network] is weak in certain areas," said College freshman Carolyna De Laurentiis, adding that AirPennNet is "not as accessible as it could be."

But there's a reason, officials say, for this inconsistency.

Faulty access points "can go bad or sometimes need some adjustments," Palladino said.

"Depending on the nature of the failure, these problems are not always detected by our proactive network monitoring but we respond when problems are identified," he said.

Ng added that too many students trying to use one access point at once could account for some of the network problems.

In the meantime, student complaints about the wireless network, not relating to specific software issues, have decreased since last September, Spicer said.

Penn officials completed the $700,000 project to bring wireless to all the on-campus dorms last summer, with the help of Cisco Systems Inc.

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