This Week in LIS - 18 October 2013

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Headline of the Week: Wireless Challenge - Now and Future

“Wireless Challenge.” It sounds like some sort of next gen game show or perhaps something one might play at a departmental off-site event as an icebreaker. Today it refers to the wireless network story at Luther College. To say that the use of wireless networking is on the rise on campus and across higher education is an understatement. There are several forces as work.  

A very important force is the demand side of the equation. Students, faculty and staff are bringing more and more devices to campus. It is sometimes referred to as Bring Your Own Device or BYOD. It began in earnest with laptops with wireless capability. Smart phones, wireless printers and wireless gaming systems have provided a multiplier, especially in the residence halls. Tablets and pads are piling on. Wireless Internet TVs are in the offing. We handle approximately 5000 devices on campus today. I can hardly wait to see what comes to campus as we begin J-Term and the Spring Semester after the shopping and gift giving seasons.

Expectations are on the rise as well. We all appreciate the Wi-Fi network with our cellular capable devices because when we are connected that way we are not eating up bytes from our cellular data plans. I am disappointed when I am at an off campus location where I can’t jump on the local wireless network easily. Many of the mobile devices are always on to a degree and stay connected to the wireless network; even when they are tucked away in pockets and backpacks. If you have an audible tone connected to receiving mail or texts you know what I mean. When my sounds are not well managed I bing-bong down the sidewalk as I walk between Preus and the Union as emails and texts arrive on my iPhone.

Use of devices is increasing in the classroom. Many teaching tools have online components and students access them with the mobile devices they bring into the classrooms. More and more professors are using iPads and AirServer support to display tablet content as they roam about the classroom engaging and working with students. Frequently at conferences there is an interactive element to presentations where we are all invited to go to a particular site and participate in audience polls through our mobile devices.  We use these on campus as well. The dynamic in these cases is density of devices.  It’s one thing to handle 5000 devices spread across an entire campus.  It is yet another to handle 300 in one large hall or 1500 in the CFL at one time.  In high-density scenarios, interference between devices competing for channels and interference between access points stresses the wireless standards. Meeting growing expectations will require new designs and implementations.

Luther College has a history of investment and support of wireless. An early memory by one staff member is using the wireless networking from laptops while sitting outside of Preus on 9/11/2001.  That early wireless network consisted of 4 access points. Today we are several wireless networking standards down the technology road and there are 21 much more capable access points in the library. Across campus there are nearly 500 wireless access points. Eighty more access points went in this summer.

Wireless access is one piece of the connection story. Another is our connection to the Internet. Just as our graduating students leave campus to serve in the broader world, the “portal” to and from that same broader world during their time as Luther College students is our Internet connection. We have three connections to campus that provide redundancy and service in the face of outages. In aggregate those connections provide enterprise class service of 380Mbps as of Summer 2012. We fully utilize those pipes in the mid to late afternoon when our business day peaks and then again later in the evening and night when our students are maximizing their usage of the network largely from their residence halls. It is soon time to increase our “portal to the broader world.” Our participating investment in the Decorah Metronet is key to our ability to increase our bandwidth to the Internet in a more affordable fashion. Stay tuned.

The wireless challenge then comes from a growing number of wireless devices competing for connections and capacity. The increased demands, especially in high density usage areas, are leading to interference between devices. There are also many devices that are inadvertently interfering with the wireless network. When LIS finds them we can mitigate the interference they are contributing with configuration. With wireless networking, interference, beyond a point, leads to performance problems and degradation.

Enterprise level wireless is a problem of the commons.” Wireless is a shared resource. The throughput of the shared network increases with additional traffic and devices until it reaches a point past which more devices and more traffic leads to less overall throughput.  The key to success with enterprise wireless is managing the contention for the wireless network.  Our best advice is to use the LCWireless5G network whenever possible and or use adapters (available in the bookstore) to make your laptop capable of using the 5Ghz network.  There is less contention and generally better performance.

“Rogue networks,” are those that make their own wireless network interfere with our campus networks. We frequently find such networks are the inadvertent cause of performance problems and in many cases those devices are down the hall. When these interfering devices are re-configured interference is reduced and performance increases.

There are 21 channels that devices can compete for on the 5Ghz frequency. There are only 3 on the 2.4Ghz frequency. Devices that move to 5Ghz will generally have better performance because they interfere with each other less. Moving also reduces the contention for the 2.4Ghz channels for the devices limited to that frequency.

LIS Technology Help Desk can help with all of these scenarios.

The “digitization” disrupter depends on our IT infrastructure. Regardless how we move forward to leverage digitization we will need a robust, scaled, performing, reliable, and highly available IT infrastructure.  Not only are our expectations going up, our dependency is also increasing as we leverage IT.  Business continuity becomes the overarching issue of which our networks and IT are a part. This is an important part of our daily work in LIS and our increasing investments and focus are essential to our collective successful future.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Explosion of Wireless Devices Strains Campus Networks

Metronet bid awarded

Tragedy of the Commons


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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

Notes from LIS Council

LIS Council is the leadership team within LIS.

  • LIS Council meeting was not held this week

Upcoming LIS Events   

Click on the event below for specific information and for a link to register. More information on training and development events is available.

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Training and instruction is provided to the Luther Community through Faculty Development Sessions, Library Instruction Sessions, Product Demonstrations, Skills Training, Workshops, 1-on-1 Sessions, and Online Materials. To schedule a session, contact the LIS Technology Help Desk at x1000 or enter your request online at

This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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