University has no plans to retrofit ‘concrete bunker’ with better wireless network
It’s Thursday evening and you’ve been at school for the whole day. After hours of note-taking and crying, you’re finally finished with all of your classes and ready to let off some steam.
You decide to hit the gym. March Madness by Future is blasting as you descend into the Recreation and Athletics Centre (RAC) for a killer leg workout. The world seems perfect, even if just for a moment.
Fifteen minutes later, while in the middle of your third set of squats, the music suddenly stops. Only the sound of your breath and the chaotic cluster of weights crashing around you remains.
If you’ve ever been to the RAC, you’ve probably experienced something like this. That’s because the RAC, unlike every other area on Ryerson campus, is nearly devoid of Wi-Fi access points.
Why you can’t get a signal in the RAC
At the moment, Ryerson currently has a total of 3,589 wireless access points across its downtown campus. This includes the Ted Rogers School of Management and the MAC, which exist outside of the main campus core.
The RAC, however, only has three access points — one in the administrative office, one in the main corridor and one outside of the men’s change room.
Add onto this the fact that the RAC is made of dense material, and you can quickly see why it’s so hard to get a signal down there.
“The RAC is a unique challenge,” says Brian Lesser, Ryerson’s chief information officer.
“Unlike the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), it was built much earlier and presents some real problems.”
Lesser, hired by the school in 2015, is responsible for the nuts and bolts of Ryerson’s Wi-Fi network.
Both the planning and implementation of the university’s ever-expanding wireless internet capabilities fall on his lap, and providing wireless internet to over 40,000 students is no easy task.
“To do much more in the building would require installation of a new conduit, coring through very thick concrete rebar slabs, and deploying wireless access points with specialized directional antennas to provide adequate coverage for the entire area,” Lesser told the Ryersonian.
“You could think of it as retrofitting wireless into a concrete bunker, which doesn’t lend itself to radio wave propagation.”
Lesser says that the range of each access point “depends on the access point model and the physical building it is in,” but notes that the only other place on campus that has presented problems is in some areas of Kerr Hall.
Still, he says, the RAC’s architecture has made it a uniquely difficult situation.
So how exactly do access points work and why are there so many of them?
Lesser says that each access point has signals that can be captured up to 33 metres away, but adds that the school places access points every eight metres.
This is to account for two things: high levels of traffic and physical objects that occasionally obstruct or interrupt the transmission of wireless frequencies.
Newer access points can service up to 128 devices at one time, which means — assuming all access points on campus can service an average of 100 devices — there can be up to 35,890 different devices utilizing Ryerson’s Wi-Fi at the same time.
Just five years ago, in 2014, the number of devices was only 1,770. If the same math was applied for that amount, Ryerson’s wireless network wouldn’t even cover half its total student population.
In the future, Lesser says that not much will change in terms of the type of technology used to provide wireless internet to students, but notes that some of Ryerson’s new buildings — such as the Student Learning Centre (SLC) and the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex — have provided ample opportunity to test and improve on the current wireless architecture.
As for the lack of Wi-Fi at the RAC, Lesser said that the major retrofit needed is not planned at the moment.
“Our priorities have been to make sure we continue to keep up with demand in classrooms, lecture halls, places where students study like the Library and SLC, and in other work areas,” Lesser said.
Those looking for some workout tunes will just have to find another way.