Faster online network for residences


It’s easier than ever for students to research online, email their professors, and broadcast Game Of Thrones in their rooms.

The Office of Information Technology recently completed a major network infrastructure upgrade in residences and apartment buildings on campus. Now, students enjoy a faster, smoother Internet connection, wired or wireless, across multiple devices.

“Our students want / need more and more bandwidth to do whatever they want to do, whether it’s education, entertainment, watching Netflix or whatever they could possibly want to do. use, ”says Ed Rogers, who heads the communications technology engineering and construction division at the ILO.

The result is a network that replaces an obsolete system with cutting-edge technology and leaves room for future improvements. It also places NC State at the forefront of universities when it comes to the dormitory internet.

“It would be physically impossible for someone to get better,” says Rogers.

At the time

University residences got their first network infrastructure in the 1990s. This system used Category 5 cabling, capable of a maximum speed of 100 megabits per second, which is not enough for thousands of people who want stream music, connect with friends and watch videos online. In the early 2000s, OIT began upgrading some buildings to Category 6 cabling, capable of 1 gigabit per second. In 2012, a big project was started to upgrade the remaining so-called “Cat 5” buildings to Category 6A cabling – the best on the market, according to Rogers, capable of 10 gigabits per second, much faster than the speeds Typical internet today.

Associate Director of ComTech Ed Rogers.

Category 5 cabling was obsolete, but the physical conduits the cables ran through were still usable.

“We were able to reuse that trail system that was already there and just take out the old cables and put in new ones,” says Rogers. “And so it was cheaper than having to punch holes and do all this stuff that we used to do in the ’90s.”

In total, OIT replaced 900 miles of cable – enough to stretch from Raleigh to Milwaukee, Wisconsin – in short bursts over several summers when student housing was empty.

OIT has also replaced hundreds of network switches, components that manage devices connected to a network, increasing them from 100 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second. Even though the cabling is capable of 10 times that speed, switches of the same caliber are just emerging and are very expensive, says Rogers. Network switches are typically replaced every five to eight years, leaving the option open for future upgrades.

New cable and network switches mean the internet is faster than ever when students go online – and the same is true when they’re on the go.

Best wireless

Rogers recognizes the importance of wireless for today’s students.

“It’s the primary way students want to connect everything from their phones and tablets to gaming systems and everything in between,” he says. “As wireless demand continues to increase, more and more devices need more and more bandwidth, especially for things that use video, like Netflix. “

Until now, students have typically brought their own wireless routers into residences. The problem, says Rogers, is that these routers operate on a limited number of channels, which causes them to interfere with each other.

“If you have a crowded residence, it’s like a whole bunch of radios trying to broadcast in the same space,” he says. “It doesn’t work so well.”

Last summer, OIT installed a wireless hotspot in every dorm room and apartment in Wolf Village and Wolf Ridge – 4,367 devices in total – with a speed of 300 megabits per second. Each device also comes with three wired ports so students can plug in game consoles or TVs for higher bandwidth. The access points, small white boxes attached to the wall, use the same new cabling as the wired system and, like other network components, are the most advanced on the market.

Access points communicate with a single controller, or “brain,” as Rogers puts it, to reduce interference and maximize speed. The new system also allows students to move around the residences and stay on the network. Previously, students had to reconnect to the network if they left their room.

Rogers says wireless internet has gone from a luxury to a staple and that’s why it’s important to have a fast and reliable system in place.

“Wireless for most of the students arriving today is quite normal for them,” he says. “They expect Wi-Fi to be everywhere and you shouldn’t have to ask if it’s there. It’s just planned.

The right equipment at the right time

Upgrading cables, network switches, and wireless took about six years. The ILO has worked around the academic calendar and the release of new technologies, like waiting a year to get the latest generation of access points that are three times faster than the previous ones.

“We feel like we jumped at the right time to get the highest technology available cost-effectively,” says Rogers.

The upgrades cost $ 6.8 million, excluding work done before 2012, and were 1.4% under budget. The funds came from an increase in student residence fees, from $ 115 to $ 140 per student per semester. The ILO discussed the increase with students from the Inter-Residence Council, the governing body of the North Carolina state residential community, before work began.

Rogers won’t say NC State is unique when it comes to its dormitory network, but he does say the university is at the forefront. Few universities put an access point in every room, and no university can complete the upgraded network, which takes advantage of NC State’s high-speed, high-capacity fiber-optic data infrastructure.

“There really is nothing better on the market than what we put in there,” says Rogers. “I can guarantee that no one has any more.”

Upgrading has a dual purpose: to satisfy current students and attract new ones.

“We know NC State is competing for students, and the best students in particular,” Rogers said. “Quality of life in residences is part of that, and part of that part of life is network connectivity. “

Rogers says the upgrade appears to have gone well. Not much has changed upfront, and his department hasn’t heard of a lot of the issues – and it probably would if things went wrong.

“I think you could probably turn off the water, the lights, and the air conditioning and you would probably have fewer complaints than if the students lost the internet,” he says.


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