UP provides free Wi-Fi services to its students and staff across most of its campuses and residences. However, this service has frustrated some students. Some are complaining of slow speeds, sudden disconnections and difficulty connecting to the network.
Perdeby sat down with IT Director and CIO, Xolani Hadebe, to discuss the difficulties that students are experiencing.
Hadebe said that the university undertook projects, regarding the Wi-Fi services, last year. Some of these projects included the upgrading of the university’s firewall and the Wi-Fi controllers. Hadebe said, “The whole university infrastructure, at the moment, is old and the number of users have more than doubled.”
Hadebe explained that the university is using the SANReN network for internet connectivity. This network is a government-owned network that provides shared internet access to all South African universities and TVET colleges connected to the network. Hadebe explained that they have alternative solutions that they are working on. Hadebe said, “We will look at having a secondary breakout point, which will be a commercial line. And then we, internally, are going to decide on which traffic breaks to which service provider. So we might for example, decide to take all Wi-Fi traffic… [and divert it] to the commercial line. That means, people updating their phones or those watching videos, for non-academic purposes, will get [the] benefit on the commercial line.”
Hadebe explained that students are experiencing difficulties because the university’s Wi-Fi network cannot meet the huge demand from the students. He also said that the biggest problem is not having difficulty to connect, but that there is a delay in connecting. Hadebe went further by saying that if the network still experiences congestion in the future, the number of student connected devices will have to be limited. For example, a student may only be allowed to connect a certain number of devices to the network with their student number.
The IT building on the Hatfield campus is one of the few buildings on campus that has very little to no Wi-Fi coverage. Hadebe said that he is aware of this and that there is a project underway to renovate the building. Hadebe also said that there is another project underway to ensure 95%-98% university-wide Wi-Fi coverage.
According to Hadebe, most residences are “cabled”, meaning that students in residences make use of LAN cables to have internet connectivity. Hadebe said that discussions will soon take place to decide if the cable system will be replaced by Wi-Fi in these residences.
Perdeby asked if they would consider blocking certain websites that create high volumes of traffic, such as video streaming services.YouTube, for example, generates a lot of network traffic and can cause congestion. Hadebe responded by saying that this will be difficult to do because of blended learning.
The University is constantly monitoring Wi- Fi usage, according to Hadebe. He said, “We know who the high users are. We can see the sites visited. The system is fully monitored.” Hadebe added that, in some cases, the university will contact students who are using a lot of data.
Hadebe said, “We need to educate our users to know that [the Wi-Fi services] are limited resources and they need to be used sparingly.” He added that students should be allowed to access the internet freely for studying and recreation purposes, but to do so responsibly, keeping in mind their own study commitments and other users who need the network for important work.