By Staff Writers Shiantel Chiang, Rishi Chillara, Julia Park & Maggie Zhao
As part of the investigative report on school internet, the Smoke Signal interviewed MSJ Information Technology Support Bryan Moremen to understand the history, current situation, and future plans for school Wi-Fi. Below is a portion of the transcript and an interactive map of the current Wi-Fi system and its speed:
The Smoke Signal: When was the first Wi-Fi system put in place at MSJ?
Bryan Moremen: The first Wi-Fi system here? Probably digital high school, around 2000 or 2001.
SS: So does that one still exist now?
SS: What’s the oldest one that is still existing right now?
BM: That would be the Ruckus system. You guys have three levels of Ruckus so there are three different types of Ruckus access points. There are the newest ones which are the 500 series and there are two older series — they were first put in around 2006 or 2007. But probably the vast majority are much newer than that. The age of the access points doesn’t mean much. If you’re supporting the newest Wi-Fi bands, you have 84 access points here; probably about 22 are the newest, which are high end. The rest of them are medium to older.
SS: How many Wi-Fi routers are there, for students and staff, and where are they?
BM: We have 84 access points today. But we could have up to 89 by the end of the week. And even today there’s always something that’s down, so there’s three access points down. So you’re just about 90, 89.
SS: Do the number of access points keep changing because we’re in the midst of a project?
BM: The number of access points keeps changing because it’s always better to at least have enough and you always have to keep increasing because we keep increasing devices. So what they’ve done in the past is they said, “Oh here’s three more Chromebook carts,” but they didn’t buy any access points so they weren’t considering what they were doing to the network. They were overloading it but not building it. It’s great that they say, “Hey here’s thirty more computers,” but you know nobody took an idea and asked, “How many computers can your network support?” Plus all you guys walking around with phones doesn’t exactly help because instead of just only turning your Wi-Fi on when you guys need it, you guys walk around with your Wi-Fi on all the time. So what happens is you’re connecting to a room as you walk by, and that room goes from 15 or 20 connections to say in passing period to way past 100, which makes the people in that room feel it. And you’re not even using the resource, but you’re making it so that the person in that room doesn’t have that resource. Not turning the Wi-Fi off when you’re walking around on campus or when you’re not using it — that’s a big problem.
SS: How does Wi-Fi traffic usually change over the course of the school day? On average, how many people are using the Wi-Fi during lunch? During class hours?
BM: 7 a.m. at Mission, there’s nothing going on. About 8 a.m., we get like this [increase number of connections], by 10 a.m. we peaked, and as soon as school bell rings boom it’s gone.
SS: So does it peak more at passing periods like you’ve said before?
BM: It doesn’t exactly peak any more, but what happens is your guys’ impact. So here’s your school map. You guys all funnel like penguins right through here [BTQ]. The fact that you guys all walk by those rooms, this area is the most highly affected area, especially during lunch. During lunch, just between this area where you guys sit, there’s probably a thousand of you guys if not more. Maybe more at some point because if I watch the numbers, at this point [A-wing] there might be five or six people connected, there might be nobody here [P7], and there might be nobody here [other corner], right? But you guys are all in [BTQ]. Lunch is probably the time of day you would notice Wi-Fi to be the most impacted. But if you’re on the LAN, and you’re still using an iMac or career center laptop or if you’re in a classroom using a computer, it’s fine. We still have plenty of bandwidth. What’s happening is you’re just surely overwhelming the access points. The access points have a limit of how many people it can handle, and there’s too many people for that. Even with the new network coming in, there’s going to be a density level. Even if we had four more access points, there’s still going to be a point where you guys are going to break it.
SS: What changes were made to the Wi-Fi system recently?
BM: This year, we probably added 25 access points, and we moved as many of the access points to gig connections. Some of them at the beginning of the school year were on a hundred (100 Mbps) still, but none of are anymore, so they’re all on a gig. That’s the two biggest things that have changed.
SS: So you removed the older access points?
BM: No, we still have older access points, but some of the access points were on the hundred (100 Mbps) connection instead of the gig. We made sure everything is on a gig, which is ten times faster. Even though when you say that, there’s still a maximum.
SS: Are there areas of the school with stronger/weaker internet access?
SS: Is the imbalance intentional?
BM: The balance is based on if teachers are teaching with technology in the room, then we’ve tried to cater to that more. So if someone’s just taking roll, they can plug in, but if someone’s trying to teach with laptops in their room or any technology in the room, whether it’s an iPad or a PC with the students, then we’ve tried to make that the priority that they can teach with technology.
SS: On balance, has the internet speed improved or slowed down since last year?
BM: You still have the same connection, you guys have a gig from this school to the district office, which is going from here to the district and out. If you’re on a LAN connection here all day long, it’s pretty good. If you did real speed tests where it’s just built in on the page and you don’t have to load anything, you can go around the school site and get an idea of what the difference would be, say, from N-wing to B-wing, but it also would vary depending on the time of day. If you guys go around testing in the afternoon around 3 p.m., most of them should be excellent, but you have to make sure that as you walk you actually disconnect yourself from the network and reconnect so you know you’re connecting to the access point that you’re closest to. Otherwise, what happens is if I connect to an access point in B1 and keep walking, there’s a good chance I’ll stay connected even if I’m [walking] until it drops me. If you connect to an access point in the P-wing, you could be all the way into M1 and still stay connected, which makes your connection worse and then you guys think you have bad connection, but that goes back to the same philosophy: turn off your Wi-Fi when you’re walking around campus.
SS: What are the technical differences between each MSJ Wi-Fi network? (MSJHwireless, FUSD Guest, staff Wi-Fi) Is there a substantial speed difference between the three?
BM: The only differences that you can have is that on some you’re authenticating with your full identification. So you might be using your student ID number and your password or some that just have passwords. Other than that, there’s no speed difference, and there’s no difference other than FUSD Guest. Guest has some limitations, like you can’t print there. In my opinion, there should be at most two networks here: one for guest, where everybody has an account and makes it easy. We have six networks here every day, and people get confused, because they think one’s better, but they’re not. They’re all equally good or equally bad at any time of day.
SS: Currently there’s MSJHwireless and FUSD Guest, is there a staff Wi-Fi or any other networks we are missing?
BM: There’s six. If you turn on your phone and go to your Wi-Fi, [shows her the list] there’s MSJH which is what everybody should use. FUSD Mobile is mostly just used for chromebooks, so you guys shouldn’t be using that. The DO Staff is here strictly for people that are coming from the district office to be able to use the Wi-Fi easily, but it makes no sense that they have all these additional Wi-Fi. It should just come up MSJH. If you wanted to have Guest that’s okay, but I don’t even think that’s necessary. One of the things they should do is negotiate that with the district office and cut down how many there are.
SS: So there’s also MSJ-wireless1—
BM: That just makes people confused, especially people that are non-technical. They think there is some speed difference. There is no speed difference. They come from the exact same access point with the exact same rules, other than FUSD Guest, since Guest is made for someone who is on campus who doesn’t have an account, but we can always have a generic account for visitors or daily password that we hand out and that’s what they should do.
SS: In the case of these six networks, they all use the same access points, so even if lots of people use MSJH, MSJ-wireless1 would still be impacted.
BM: Yes, they’re either equally good or equally bad. Sometimes it’s only because the person didn’t turn off their Wi-Fi as they walked around. Like they’re still connected to the P-building and they’re in the M-building, so now not only are they slower, but they’re also impacting everybody else. But that’s Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is not as robust as being on ethernet. People call it convenient, but you still need power for your laptop, and if you’re a staff member you should probably plug in.
SS: What is the intended accommodation of each of and all of these networks (in terms of number of students/devices)?
On Wi-Fi, we range somewhere between 800 and 1400 connections a day, overall, you guys [MSJ students] go through DHCP, so you guys probably break 3000 leases a day. Somewhere between 2200 and 2800 devices, becauses some of the leases are short, so some might get multiple numbers.
SS: Are these intended accommodations for these access points or are they way higher?
BM: The current access points we have, like i said if people turned their phones off, we have more than enough right now, we have 90 access points and that should be pretty good in most rooms, some people might not have computers with the newest Wi-Fi cards, so they might think the Wi-Fi is slow, but it’s not the Wi-Fi it’s their laptop [sic]. It’s the same issue with people with phones, they have an older phone.They are using Wi-Fi and they think its the Wi-Fi and its not. In some of our rooms, we have older access point where a newer access points would make a huge difference. So you really wanna stay under 50, and even 50, there will be be some strain on the Wi-Fi. There is a limit to everything, depending on what people are doing
SS: So these networks have the capability of handing 90-100 devices?
BM: They tell us you can go up to about 90-100 on these access points, but I really dont think that’s a good idea. Anything over 50 is kinda too much, so you really want to stay under 50, and even 50 is a lot, because that’s on a gig connection sharing between 50 users. Years ago when Wi-Fi was really first coming out, I was at Apple, and they were showing us a demo on how great the Wi-Fi was, and one user was streaming a video, and all of us got kicked off. Nobody could use the Wi-Fi. So here, there are certain limits to everything, so if there’s four people streaming a high-definition video, it should be okay, but you have to limit.
Graphic by Graphics Editor Victor Zhou