Massive Wireless Access Point Upgrade Underway

Posted on: November 6, 2014

From now through spring 2015, Information Technology Services (ITS) Networking and Telecommunications (N&T) is working with IT leaders across campus to upgrade over half of the Wireless Access Points (WAP) on campus. The new WAPs support the latest standard (802.11ac), and work better with older devices as well. (iPhone 5 performance, for example, more than doubles when using the new WAPs). If you are in the Flawn Academic Center (FAC), a lot of the WAPs were recently replaced, so ITS can refine the installation process with ITS staff before assisting others across campus.

The old WAPs were facing end of support from the vendor. When that happens in the wireless world it means that the access points stop working at the next security patch. (On average, the old WAPs were used for about 8 years each, so they were a good return on investment.) N&T negotiated a really sweet deal, and then worked with units across campus to coordinate their purchase of the new WAPs. The negotiated deal was so good, a number of units chose to get a head start on the next oldest generation of WAPs. N&T is installing them all and using additional contractor labor (we ran out of people!) to upgrade and add additional WAPs in the residence halls to improve that heavily used, self-funded service.

UT Austin has a scale all its own. There are about 6,800 WAPs on campus, and ITS is installing roughly 3,600 new devices. Usually when an 18-wheeler shows up at the ITS warehouse, one or two pallets of WAPs get unloaded. For the this upgrade, an entire truck was unloaded! You can track project progress and review the original IT governance endorsement materials to learn more about this massive undertaking.

What is ITS doing to improve cell coverage? Encourage our campus colleagues to complain about cell coverage on campus! Seriously. If you experience issues with cellular service anywhere on campus please complete and submit this feedback form . The more students, faculty, staff, and visitors complain when experiencing poor cell service (outside and inside), the greater the chance of getting the carriers attention. Complaint information submitted through the form is passed on to our Distributed Antennae System (DAS) provider, who in turn works with the carriers to address the coverage problem spots. Please report poor cell coverage instances as often as possible; it really helps improve cellular phone service on campus.

In fact, Crown Castle (who is UTs DAS provider) annually tests the outdoor and indoor cell coverage. This year they are including a handful of buildings that have the largest number of cell coverage complaints. On November 13-14, contractors from Telnet will be walking through every floor of several buildings during regular business hours with test equipment recording cellular signal strength for the various wireless service providers on campus. Efforts will be made to keep the testing crews in main corridors avoiding offices, classrooms, and labs areas. The test crew will be equipped with special backpacks and laptops to collect data.

Within the next several years, ITS hopes to be able to use Voice over Wi-Fi capabilities, which will dramatically improve the service and further leverage the investments in the WAP upgrades.

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