What can I do now?

Please see below for a status update on what IS&T and housing are doing to improve wireless connectivity to residents in E55. In the meantime, it is important to know that there may be things you can do on your own to improve your wireless connectivity. These suggestions will not work for all residents, but may help in your situation.
  • Turn off IPv6. More info and instructions are here: http://kb.mit.edu/confluence/x/C4AIAw
  • Try connecting to MIT SECURE N (if your computer supports it). MIT SECURE N is a 5Ghz only network. There is less active (radio) interference on the 5Ghz frequency range than there is on 2.4Ghz.
  • IS&T has a very limited supply of wireless cards that supports 5Ghz and can loan them out to residents that are unable to see the MIT SECURE N network

Background

Eastgate was the first dorm to get ubiquitous wireless coverage in 2005 when the MIT wireless project began. At that time, demands for bandwidth and latency on the wireless network were far, far smaller than they are today. Wireless APs were installed at locations that not only provided adequate signal penetration to all of the rooms in your building, but were also readily accessible to IS&T employees that needed access to them for support and maintenance. To this end, the APs were installed in the hallways that surround the elevator. Four access points are deployed per floor in a configuration that covers rooms as evenly as possible.

Since the installation in 2005, demands on the wireless network have become much, much larger. Nearly all residents arriving on campus have more than one network connected device. These can include computers, tablets, smartphones, VoIP phones, TVs, gaming consoles, network media streaming devices, printers and many more. Additionally, bandwidth consumption from single devices has increased by orders of magnitude, especially since the rise of video streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.

These increased demands cause any deficiency in the wireless coverage in the building to be more pronounced. Devices with insufficient coverage utilizing only small amounts of traffic notice far fewer disruptions in service than devices that have poor coverage and are trying to utilize the network to it's fullest extent.

Other factors that have increased the coverage woes include any new furnishings or moved furniture/equipment in rooms. New heating units have been installed in E55, more residents are arriving on campus with large TVs, cordless phones or other 2.4Ghz wireless (not wi-fi) devices that interfere with the 802.11b/g/n network.

What has IS&T done so far?

As IS&T received more reports that the wireless network was not providing sufficient coverage to rooms in E55, updates to the wireless infrastructure were made that should have increased coverage to rooms. These upgrades and changes have been rolled out in stages throughout the last year. Multicast traffic, a protocol that can generate a large amount of traffic overhead on the Cisco wireless infrastructure was disabled on the network to do away with extraneous traffic.

The access points are part of a centrally controlled group that can dynamically change transmit power levels and channel assignments. The access points were originally configured to dynamically update power based on the RF environment, however, all APs are now currently transmitting at maximum power to ensure the highest possible signal strength is reaching resident rooms.

IS&T also consulted the wireless hardware vendor for insight into how to resolve coverage issues in Eastgate. Cisco engineers recommended some software changes that were implemented on the wireless controllers. Feedback after the changes were put in place suggested that a few residents noticed an improvement, but most residents saw no difference in coverage.

Why is there still a problem?

With very reasonable certainty, IS&T has identified the AP placement as the largest factor affecting wireless coverage in that building. There is significant distance between where the access point is placed in the hallway and the locations that most residents use their computers. Additionally, there are concrete walls with rebar, kitchen cabinets and furniture (cabinets, microwave, refrigerator), heating units and potentially any other furniture that may be placed there by the current resident. All of these things and any other large, metallic object can interfere with the signal.

Active interference also plays a role in the form of personal wireless access points, cordless phones, wireless speakers and any other device that operates in the 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz frequency range.

What are the next steps?

Jointly, IS&T and the Eastgate housing staff setup a test bed on the 2nd floor of E55 on October 20th. This setup allowed us to evaluate the effectiveness of the current plan, which involves placing the access points in new locations in E55. The APs will be moved so that they are placed on the wall adjoining two apartments in order to provide clear line-of-site through the entire living room space.

Coordination with the E55 housing staff is still not complete, however, the next step in the process is to move the access points on five to ten of the floors in E55. The pilot floors are to be decided based on recommendations from IS&T and from the house management. Currently, IS&T estimates approximately 2 weeks worth of construction time needed to complete this phase. This will only begin after the E55 housing staff and IS&T have agreed upon a start date.

When will the work be complete?

An ETA for the work to be completed cannot be given at this time. The E55 housing staff and IS&T are working as quickly as schedules allow to follow through with the pilot installation. Once the pilot rooms have been completed, a more accurate estimate will be possible.

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