Walking in a WiFi Wonderland

imagesThis time of year, it’s nice to find a spot by the giant window upstairs and curl up with some earbuds, your Chromebook, and that essay you’ve been procrastinating on for the past two weeks.  However, that’d be a heck of a lot easier to do if the school’s WiFi didn’t decide to disconnect every five minutes.  The Internet is a wonderful thing when it works, but can make you want to throw your laptop at a wall when it doesn’t.  A few weeks ago, we asked Mr Dicks, FHS’s one-man IT department, for some information on how our school’s WiFi network connects us (and occasionally fails to connect us) to the World Wide Web. Contrary to popular belief, FHS is “in a very good place when it comes to our network and student access to technology”, according to Mr Dicks.  This year, the high school’s network has been updated to run the new Wireless 802.11AC standard (there’s more info on it here for all of you bored computer geeks out there).  Basically, this means that the FHS network can process a lot more data, much more efficiently, than it could in the past, making your connection to the Internet faster and less likely to be interrupted.   The new network set-up follows a plan that should keep it up to date with modern technology for at least the next 10 years.  Each classroom has a router (a gadget used to connect a small group of computers to the main network) capable of connecting up to 30 devices at a time, greatly improving connection speed and efficiency. But, as everyone at FHS knows all too well, WiFi problems can occur in even the most up-to-date networks.  Sometimes the root of the problem extends all the way to Google itself.  If their servers are having an issue, our network will lose connection to Drive and other programs we use daily. But the most common problems, such as slow or interrupted connections, are more local in nature.  To be fair, there are a LOT of devices connected to our network.  The current set-up of WiFi routers allows for about 3,000 stable connections at a time, which would seem to be more than enough for the roughly 1,480 students and few dozen staff members at our school.  But, between the laptops, desktop computers, and plethora of personal devices, there are often more than 4,000 devices trying to connect to the network every day.  This slows down a network that would be a lot faster under more ideal circumstances. Hardware complications also affect WiFi performance, and sometimes even cause the FHS network to go down completely.  Apparently, this usually happens on Mondays – Mr. Dicks theorizes that it may be because of weekend construction – we at The Saber Slate prefer to believe that the Internet hates Mondays just as much as we do. A WiFi connection is a lot more than a few bars in the corner of your screen – it’s the result of a complex system that is, quite frankly, really cool.  It involves devices ranging from your pocket-sized cell phone to the giant servers of Google itself.  Unfortunately, any small problem along the way has the potential to affect your Internet access.  So, instead of getting frustrated when that YouTube video, that you’re totally not watching during class, starts to buffer, take those few extra seconds to appreciate the complex network that allows you to experience the modern wonder that is WiFi.

One thought on “Walking in a WiFi Wonderland

  • December 15, 2014 at 12:42 AM

    Nice to see the upgrade taking place, but the move to wireless 802.11AC won’t really have any affect on a good portion of devices in the school until it becomes the standard in a few years. Virtually none of the tech currently in use at the school supports AC, save for those fancy new Googleboxes. Even most current-gen smartphones don’t have the capability to use it.

    That said, I’m looking forward to seeing how things do improve as it sees wider adoption among wireless devices. Gigabit WLAN speeds make my mouth water.

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