What’s up with the Wi-Fi?

“Ugh, this Wi-Fi is so slow!”

“Why did I just get disconnected?”

These are a few of the phrases you may hear upon entering certain areas of Union College’s campus. In today’s society people are impatient and get easily irritated when they don’t receive fast results, especially from their Internet connection.

However, it must be understood that many factors affect Internet’s speed and there are also a number of things students can do in order to speed things up.

Union uses a wireless network made by HP and a couple hundred access points can be found throughout campus. The access points typically contain two radios that transmit channels for the wireless system and connect each access point to one of many wireless controllers. These controllers ensure that the system is being controlled correctly and that unauthorized devices aren’t connecting to the network.

If you’ve ever been unexpectedly kicked-off the Wi-Fi, it’s because another function of these controllers is to shuffle devices when the signal gets too low. This shuffling enables devices to sync up to closer access points and frees up the previous points for others to connect.  Some people have “sticky” devices which means the devices tend to remain stuck to an access point instead of switching to one that’s in closer range. This results in the sticky device running at a slower speed and it also slows down anyone else trying to use that access point.

When asked why they believed the Wi-Fi was slow, many students responded that “It’s because the Wi-Fi is shared between so many people.”

This is true; sharing a network between hundreds of students creates a huge strain on the network. The network’s bandwidth has been used up far more this year than in previous years. Because of the increase in usage, last Thursday the system’s space was bumped-up from a 200MG line to 300MG line in an effort to speed things up.

Internet speed also varies depending on the drivers in people’s devices. Most devices have outdated drivers which causes the Internet to run slow on that particular device.

The Information Systems (IS) department is constantly trying to improve the system by putting latest upgrades on the access points and installing new drivers to work better with people’s equipment. They are currently working on changing how the wireless system handles its power levels because there have been places where the Wi-Fi system appears to have low power, as opposed to others where the power seems to be just fine.

“The system is supposed to self-heal but it hasn’t been working well,” states Richard Henriques, Director of Information Systems. Since the healing system tends to run some access points too low, IS has decided to shut it off and manually go through and set all the access points. As you can imagine, this requires a significant amount of time.

As IS works to do their part and improve the Internet connection, here are some things students can do to help speed things up:

  1. Update your computer’s drivers. Outdated drivers tend to run much slower than those that are up-to-date.
  2. Take advantage of the wire-connections in dorm rooms; use wired Internet on your laptops instead of Wi-Fi. This not only speeds up your connection but also frees up the Wi-Fi for others to use. (Ethernet cables can be bought at the campus store for $5.)
  3. Limit your Netflix time. Streaming TV shows and movies take up much more space than reading a webpage. Keep in mind that your binge-watching could be hindering someone who is trying to write a research paper.
  4. Don’t hook up multiple devices to the Wi-Fi if you’re not using them. This just slows down the connection for everyone.
  5. Be conscious how you use your resources. Wi-Fi is a resource, and as Henriques puts it “playing Pandora in your room while you’re not there is like leaving the faucet running. You’re using up a resource that somebody else could use.”

Implementing some of these simply tips can help end the Wi-Fi frustration and benefit you and those around you.


Leilah is a freshman studying communication and graphic design.