As of Sept. 2, Country Day students were prohibited from connecting their phones to the school’s Wi-Fi, causing some to lack cell service. (Photo by Shimin Zhang)

SCDS Wi-Fi excludes phones to improve security, quality

Students no longer are permitted to connect their cellular devices to the school’s student Wi-Fi. According to director of technology Shelley Hinson, security concerns and the slow performance of school Wi-Fi were the primary reasons for the change, which took effect on Sept. 2. 

Hinson said Wi-Fi servers often have a domain router (which connects to devices through Bluetooth), but as Country Day students receive MacBooks,  the school uses a local network (which has a password to connect to devices). 

“I can’t secure every personal device which is brought onto campus,” Hinson said.

Hinson said she hopes to move to a regular domain for a more stable network, but it is expensive and difficult to manually make the change on every device using the Wi-Fi. 

According to Hinson, Country Day teachers have received an increasing number of fake emails, and removing personal phones assures a safer and more secure network. The phishing emails are usually from fake administrators to confirm if an email is active. Recipients then are asked to buy gift cards. 

“These emails have been there for the last three years but have increased this year,” Hinson said. “Each admin now gets it about four times a month. In order to ensure maximum security, every device has to register under Country Day, and our laptops are already registered.” 

According to Hinson, the use of student Wi-Fi also affects faculty because every connection is taken from the same network. 

“It is important that the teacher Wi-Fi works, especially if we ever have an emergency,” Hinson said. “However, because cellphones are not controlled by the school, we cannot ensure that all of those are safe to be on a shared network.”

Of 117 high school students polled on Sept. 17, 54% disapprove of the change. 

Sophomore Tarika Brar said not being able to use the Wi-Fi on phones affects her ability to use her phone at all. 

“I cannot contact my parents at any time during the school day, which will not be efficient during important situations,” Brar said. 

Senior Max Kemnitz added that he has not noticed an improvement in his laptop’s Wi-Fi. 

According to Hinson, before the Wi-Fi was changed, there were about 900 consistent connections every day, and 750 of those were cellphones. 

“The more connections there are, the more bandwidth (range of frequencies used to transmit a signal) is used, and we only have a certain amount of that, which slows the speed of the Wi-Fi down,” Hinson said. “If students are playing video games on their phones, it takes up more bandwidth, which doesn’t leave very much for teachers to use in their classrooms.”

Freshman David Kedem supports the switch. 

“Phones aren’t there to help (students) learn, while laptops are, so it’s important that laptops are able to connect first,” Kedem said. 

Junior Olivia Chilelli agreed, saying most people are not using their phones for schoolwork. 

“The Wi-Fi is here for us to study and (do) research on our laptops,” Chilelli said. “We only use our phones for social media, and everything that we do on a phone can be done on a laptop.”

A freshman who requested anonymity disagreed, saying a phone is more efficient than a laptop. 

“I can use my phone to check my grades and any assignments on CavNet in between classes,” she said. “If I need to search up a definition or use the calculator, it’s easy to do.”

Hinson said phones on Wi-Fi add connections to an access point. Every classroom has an access point that can hold up to 40 connections without stretching the bandwidth, but the environment and any metal can interfere with the radio frequencies.

“Before this month, Rooms 10 and 11 in the middle school didn’t have any Wi-Fi because there were too many metal products and wires in the walls that interfered with the access point,” Hinson said. “I added a different brand of the access point which can hold up to at least 120 connections.” 

Hinson said the interference of the phones with the access points uses another connection,  affecting laptops that are trying to connect for school purposes. 

“Blocking phones off of the network isn’t effective because it taxes the access point by constantly trying to connect,” Hinson said. “However, I can change the passwords for the laptops so the phones don’t have the password saved and don’t auto-connect.”

Hinson said not having phones on the Wi-Fi allows unlimited performance quality for students. Uploading and downloading any file should be much faster, according to Hinson. 

However, 63% of the students polled haven’t noticed a change.

To increase Wi-Fi performance, Hinson said she plans to disable student hotspots and have teachers remind students about closing their laptop between classes. Hinson has the ability to block unapproved access points, which are actually hotspots.

“Hotspots compete with access points, and laptops get confused as to which one they are supposed to connect to,” Hinson said. “Leaving laptops open from class to class means that your laptop is trying to connect to the last access point you were on, which could be at the other end of campus. That’s probably why it takes laptops time to connect to the internet.”

—By Sanjana Anand

Originally published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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