Senior Michaela Chen plays Google Chrome's offline game during her AP Computer Science Principles class. She was unable to connect to to complete an in-class activity. (Photo by Allison Zhang)

Slow Wi-Fi caused by too many devices, prompts installation of new access points

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Due to an increase in devices, the SCDS Wi-Fi quality plummeted this year, prompting director of technology Shelley Hinson to install new access points.

In an Oct. 9 poll of 86 students, 37 students said they thought the Wi-Fi speed was very slow, another 37 said it was slow, 11 said it was normal and one said it was fast. No one said it was very fast.

Senior Leonardo Eisner said that the decline in Wi-Fi quality since the 2017-18 school year has been particularly noticeable in his AP Computer Science Principles class, which is heavily reliant on internet access. Because all the students take up bandwidth, they often can’t load pages or complete tasks, according to Eisner.

“But even in the library, (the Wi-Fi) has problems,” Eisner said. “If I have to watch a video for a class, I won’t watch it at school because I know how it affects (the Wi-Fi connection of) people near me, and the video won’t load, so I’ll just wait until I get home.

“When I’m using my computer or my phone to load something, there’s a lot of times where I find myself turning off the Wi-Fi just to use cellular data or switching from my computer to my phone.”

Connectivity problems especially affect teachers, some of whom – such as history teacher Sue Nellis and Spanish teacher Patricia Portillo – have had to alter lesson plans as a result.  

After talking with Hinson, Nellis learned that her classroom is in one of the worst locations for Wi-Fi connectivity.

“It’s been tough in this classroom – (the Wi-Fi) is not as consistent as it should be,” Nellis said. “You can tell how it really slows down when 15 people are on their laptops. And that’s what’s causing frustration and (an) interruption of class activities.”

Nellis said that although there have always been some Wi-Fi problems, this year’s internet connection is worse.

Due to the faulty connection, it’s also more difficult to post grades and attendance on CavNet, according to Portillo.

“It’s an added stress to have to rely on the (inconsistent) internet to work on grades,”Portillo said.

Because of the unreliable Wi-Fi, she often spends extra time working at home, Portillo added.

But according to sophomore Keshav Anand and junior Aaron Graves, the Wi-Fi isn’t always bad – in fact, when it connects, it’s “pretty fast.”

Graves said that it’s understandable that the Wi-Fi during computer science classes is spotty because about 20 more people are taking these classes this year, meaning more people are using the internet. Furthermore, computer science classes are in the new computer lab, which is furnished with 18 new iMac computers – 18 more devices the Wi-Fi needs to accommodate.

It is this overall increase in devices connecting to the internet that caused the Wi-Fi quality to diminish, according to Hinson.

Right now, five Cisco Meraki access points (APs) – the places that connect devices to Wi-Fi – are placed intermittently around the high school campus, and most classrooms share an AP with another room. Although these spots are supposed to support 30 to 40 devices, they really handle only 20 to 25, which include phones, computers and printers, Hinson said.

“When people cannot connect (to the Wi-Fi), it is not because there’s no internet connection,” she said. “It’s because they’re just getting kicked off these little access points.

“The internet is still there; it’s still working. The internet doesn’t go down. I can monitor it all day.”

Moreover, interference from the large number of microwaves and fridges slows down the Wi-Fi, according to Hinson. Since both APs and these appliances use radio waves, the latter can disrupt Wi-Fi signals.

All of this, along with details such as the materials of the walls between APs and the proximity of said points, needs to be considered when placing new APs.

Since SCDS doesn’t have an up-to-date network diagram, Eclipse Integrated Systems Inc. is completing a network assessment, detailing information such as the network speed, bandwidth and security. Next, the company will go over the reports with Hinson during a three-day on-site visit, she said.

Originally, Hinson said she wanted to wait to install the new APs until the company confirmed the correct locations, but due to the increase in complaints, Hinson decided not to wait.

After the maintenance department wired new cables on Oct. 22, Hinson hooked up new APs in Rooms 3, 4, 6 and 8, meaning each classroom now has its own AP. The APs can be easily moved within the classrooms, Hinson said, so after she receives the network assessment, she can relocate them to their optimal positions. Following short scheduled maintenance during lunch on Oct. 24, all APs were fully functional, according to Hinson.

Additionally, Hinson said she plans to take the computer lab’s computers off the Wi-Fi and connect them to the LAN (local area network), freeing up more Wi-Fi access.  

Even though this is the “long-term” option, Hinson said, it isn’t a permanent fix; the number and locations of APs will need to change periodically with the number of devices and interfering appliances.

“As we grow, our need for Wi-Fi is going to increase, so we need to keep up with it,” Hinson said.

“But it’s good news. It means we’re growing.”

However, not all the Wi-Fi problems are solvable – at around 1 p.m. on Sept. 28, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack caused Country Day’s Wi-Fi provider, Consolidated Communications, to shut down the school’s Wi-Fi.

In a DDoS attack, a hacker floods a group of IP addresses with traffic until they shut down. To protect those IP addresses, Consolidated Communications shut down its internet service until the attack ended, according to Hinson. There is no way to tell if the attack was directed at Country Day or just a group of IP addresses, Hinson added, but schools and businesses are often targets because of the amount of information they have online.

Although SCDS’s IP address could be attacked in the same way again, Hinson said that it shouldn’t happen often, if ever.

But while the Wi-Fi was down, many teachers, such as English teacher Jane Bauman, had to change lesson plans.

“I had the audio version (of ‘Othello’) queued up, and I could not play it,” Bauman said.

“So, gosh, we had to read the book!”

Bauman and Portillo added that the Wi-Fi outage reminded them of their dependence on technology.

“This could actually generate discussion among students and faculty,” Portillo said.

“Do we want to live like this? Is this the right way to live, by relying on technology 100 percent of the time?”

—By Larkin Barnard-Bahn

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