The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 26th

ITS struggles to expand campus Wi-Fi coverage due to budget cuts

The University’s Wi-Fi, one of the most precious resources for students, faculty and staff, isn’t immune to the pinch of budget constraints.

Although Information Technology Services is transferring from the UNC-1 network to UNC-Secure network by the end of 2012, the accessibility of the wireless on campus is still unaddressed.

Jim Gogan, director of networking systems for ITS, said the department’s priority has been expanding Wi-Fi access, but historically, funding for such an expansion has been scarce.

Only 30 percent of UNC’s campus is covered by 2,400 access points, he said.

“What wireless is out there is from some funding we’ve been able to get every once in a while, but we’ve been trying to get funding for quite a few years,” he said.

Gogan said ITS has an estimated need of between $1.5 million and $2.5 million per year for network hardware.

“We’ve never had a permanent funding source at that level,” he said.

Even the Ethernet switches on campus are eight to 10 years old, well beyond their recommended life spans.

“Ideally those switches should have been replaced years ago, but we have to make do,” Gogan said.

Students also have limited access to Wi-Fi in their dorm rooms, he said.

“In on-campus housing, unfortunately, the only Wi-Fi available is in common areas — study halls and lounges,” Gogan said.

“I’d love to see it cover all of the rooms, but that’s something housing would have to fund, and they have not been able to find those funds.”

Funding for Wi-Fi has suffered significantly due to recent budget cuts.

“Over the last couple of years, if faculty members submitted a proposal to add access points to a classroom, we could allocate some funding for that,” he said.

Gogan said almost 90 access points were added to classrooms and labs during a two-year period, but the program had to stop when funding dried up. The operating budget line for the program, called TAR-WAP, was $50,000 per year. It was suspended this year due to budget cuts, he said.

Stephen O’Donnell, of the Office of Information Technology at Duke University, said the private university’s student rooms have only one wired port because most students are using wireless all the time.

“We also have a ubiquitous visitor network that allows guests, like parents, to jump on the wireless network,” O’Donnell said in an email.

UNC student Justin Ellis said he could not access the Internet at all from the lobby of Alderman Residence Hall when he lived there.

“I understand it’s a big university and funding is an issue, but they need to re-extend coverage,” Ellis said. “It’s really spotty.”

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