“Usually it works perfect right here,” said Ricardo Layne, a security guard posted inside the Bedford Avenue entrance of Roosevelt Hall as he stared at a small grey symbol on his tablet that indicated he had no Wi-Fi connection. Doing the dance of the desperate device-holder, Layne walked back and forth with his eyes glued to his screen.
“I know there are hotspots. In some certain areas it works great and others you can’t get it,” Brooklyn College graduate student Stephanie Marquez said as she typed quickly with a fan of papers surrounding her in the corner of the West Quad. When the connection failed her on the picnic tables outside, Marquez did just as Layne, and relocated to chase the signal.
Students deal with the Wi-Fi on campus in different ways. Some chase the best connection, some use personal hotspots, some resort to cell service and others just complain. The fact of the matter is, on the fourth floor of the library, Information Technology Services is in phase two of a three phase plan to serve the students and provide quality Wi-Fi universally throughout campus. Mark Gold, the assistant vice president for technology and ITS is replacing aging materials, strategizing locations of new access points, updating software and improving a student feedback system.
“I really disagree with anybody that says Brooklyn College has bad Wi-Fi. Our Wi-Fi is really quite excellent, but it’s challenging,” Gold said while sitting next to a dry-erase board filled with quickly drawn but elaborate maps. “To serve the students it has to be better.”
One of the main obstacles that Gold is dealing with was given to Brooklyn College during its inception. Thick, dense layers of cinder block line the walls of the buildings on campus, a stark contrast to the modern day standard of sheetrock. Signals sent from access points, which allow devices to connect to Wi-Fi, have significant trouble penetrating these cinder block barriers, causing spotty coverage in classrooms.
“Wi-Fi sucks!” Evangeline Vassiliou, a Brooklyn College student said. “James second floor, Boylan third floor, it goes in and out everywhere else.” Vassiliou expressed her anger while sitting in the Quad next to Katherine Chan who was trying to connect to Wi-Fi on her MacBook.
“It’s in and out everywhere on campus,” Chan said.
The common thread of complaints does not go unnoticed. Florencia Salinas, a computer science major is on the chair of academic affairs, which makes a list of issues to deal with at the beginning of the semester. Wi-Fi was deemed a priority by the chair and John McFarland, working on behalf of CLAS, was sent to coordinate with Information Technology Services to create a bridge between ITS and the students.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about Wi-Fi on campus…a lot of people think it’s a simple issue and the reality is that there are a lot of moving parts,” McFarland said. To provide easier feedback to ITS, CLAS created a ticket system for Wi-Fi issues on its website. The idea is simple; if you have a complaint, submit it to gather research to help ITS know exactly where the issues are.
Part of the funding for Wi-Fi development comes from participatory budgeting and the student tech fee. The student tech fee provides $10,000 every year towards Wi-Fi and through participatory budgeting, students proposed the issue of Wi-Fi as a priority.
“Ideally you wouldn’t want students to pay out of their activity fee for things that facilities should be paying for,” Salinas said.
“It’s really frustrating. I think definitely the Wi-Fi needs more funding,” Jennifer Li, philosophy and law major said on a walk to get service.
As access points age, they get stressed and send out a weaker signal, needing to be replaced. According to Gold, ITS put in 70 to 80 replacement access points on campus this year, which were dependent on the budget. President Karen Gould showed her support for the issue by going to the City University of New York and getting funds to get the ball rolling. A hefty $40,000 worth of access points is on order right now towards Wi-Fi development. This amount of access points can cover up to 400 rooms with proper strategy.
There are a few ideas on the table right now, but one includes putting access points in classroom corridors and extending antennas in a manner that is best for coverage with the budget.
“There are a bunch of different ways to skin a cat, they all have a cost,” Gold said.
In addition to getting around the cinder block barriers Brooklyn College provided, ITS is installing new software to produce smart access points. If a student walks by a barrage of access points, his or her device latches on to one, and then it stays connected even though the device is far from the point, the signal will naturally be weak. The new software enables access points to tell devices which point is the strongest and to always connect to the most effective point.
The storm of access points is not limited to the campus. There is Wi-Fi on busses that pass on Bedford Avenue that devices grab onto, Boylan is in a continuous battle with the Wi-Fi from Midwood High School, and people bring in their own access points or use personal hotspots, creating a sea of signals that devices naturally look for.
“I’m using my data all up because I’m using my hotspot instead,” Crystal Pown, a business management major said. Pown feels that the Wi-Fi has improved since she came to Brooklyn College in 2014, but the unreliable coverage gets in the way of work. “It goes in and out sometimes, it messes up whatever you’re doing.” Pown believes Wi-Fi is a necessity in the library above all.
Andrea Bulding, a communications major, agrees. “I’ll be on the second floor of the library and I’ll open up my MacBook and I have to wait like ten minutes for the Wi-Fi just to come up,” Bulding said. “I don’t get why our campus Wi-Fi sucks.”
“It’s a battle…Wi-Fi needs to be cared for all day, all week,” said Gold. That battle is being fought by all angles, one of the most important right now, being mapping out where to place access points this summer and next year to assure that Wi-Fi coverage will be brought to students and faculty on campus.
With strategies in motion, software being installed, feedback systems in full swing and devices simply evolving more every day, Gold is optimistic about the future of Wi-Fi on campus. He is confident that by the end of next year, there will be significant improvement.
“I have a very positive attitude towards it. I know that there are people that are sometimes frustrated and I understand that, but I see it all being very substantially resolved very quickly.”