University Enters The ‘Eduroam’ Era With Uncertainty

Responding to a number of complaints surrounding Boston College’s new wireless network, BC Information Technology Services is ramping up efforts to resolve connectivity issues on campus and improve its IT infrastructure.

Early in the afternoon in late-May this past summer, BC students received an email from BC ITS titled “REMINDER: Network Upgrade Begins Next Week.” It laid out a schedule for the following week, in which BC ITS began a major network infrastructure upgrade from its familiar “bcsecure” and “BostonCollege” wireless networks to a new and improved “eduroam” network.

An email from a few weeks prior formally introduced the June 2 upgrade to the BC community, citing improved security and ease of use as reasons for the infrastructure upgrade, as well as the ability to connect to eduroam networks at participating universities throughout the world.

“What we have arrived at is a more efficient, industry-standard, secure and scalable platform,” Scott Cann, technology director of ITS Support Services, said in an email. “The previous infrastructure was 17 years old and running on hardware that was no longer supported.”


 

“There are approximately 30,000 devices on the network at any given time,” he explained. “We are projecting that number could increase to as much as 75,000 in as few as five years. The new network is far more scalable as the demand for networking increases.”


 

Cann also cited the security concerns associated with the previous “bcsecure” network using a shared wireless password as a need to upgrade.

According to Cann, another potentially overlooked upside to this transition—along with no longer needing to remember which letters in the “bcsecure” password are dollar signs and 3s—is a matter of forward-thinking scalability.

“There are approximately 30,000 devices on the network at any given time,” he explained. “We are projecting that number could increase to as much as 75,000 in as few as five years. The new network is far more scalable as the demand for networking increases.”

Transitioning this massive number of users, however, has not been without its problems. The massive amount of physical user movement between buildings and campuses has created a particularly difficult issue for ITS to manage and, in particular, prepare for during the emptier summer months.

“A challenge for us was simulating the demand of 5,000 to 7,000 people moving across campus during class exchanges. As each person passes from building to building, their devices are potentially authenticating every wireless access point they pass. This proved to be problematic in the first days of school this year.”

With the difficulties that have come from such a massive transition, ITS had its hands full handling student feedback and closely monitoring network performance as students returned. In response to potential concerns on campus, it implemented a large-scale service arrangement to assist with network-related issues to make the transition as seamless as possible for the approximately 30,000 new devices connecting to the network with the start of September.

“I was very sorry to hear that students were not having a good experience,” Cann responded when asked about coverage complaints. “I have heard that there were complaints and we take them very seriously. As the Help Center gets more calls on any specific issue, those problems are escalated to management and we assemble the appropriate technical teams to address the issues.”

Despite the issues and initial technical difficulties, many students are reporting that coverage and performance are improving.

“These things are rarely easy,” said Bill Bowditch, a computer science major and MCAS ’17. “But they have to happen somewhere along the line, nobody wants to be left behind. Progress always involves risks, you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”


 

Progress always involves risks, you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”


 

“There are no more major changes under way right now,” Cann explained when asked about any ongoing or planned work taking place on the network. “We are actively monitoring network performance and our Help Center tickets, making as many necessary changes to improve performance as needed.”

The network facelift, according to those in ITS, was in response to an increased focus on cyber security and network capacity. According to the BC ITS website, this upgrade will connect BC to “thousands of colleges and universities in over 74 territories” in a “world-wide roaming access service developed for the international research and education community.”

Implementation of this service, however, is a team effort. Cann optimistically encourages any and all student input.

“Student feedback is critical to improving our services and we want to hear about it. The Help Center will always be the quickest way to get this information to us or to simply get help,” Cann said “I am happy to talk with anyone as well.”

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

About James Lucey 36 Articles
James Lucey is the Features Editor at The Heights and a member of the class of 2017 at Boston College. He had high hopes for writing a good bio, but couldn't be clever on the spot. Hi mom.