AirBear looks to expand its reach around campus

Photo illustration by Richard Hirst, Photo Editor.

Members of the Baylor community can walk through areas outside the Bill Daniels Student Center and around Fountain Mall with access to AirBear, Baylor’s wireless network, thanks to a bill passed by Student Senate. These are some of the main areas affected by the wireless network.
After a bill proposed January 29, by Student Senate, vice president for information technology and dean of university libraries, Pattie Orr initiated plans to expand AirBear in outdoor areas.
The AirBear network to date has 1722 access points on campus that serves 15,000 concurrent users and 42,000 unique devices. This wireless network is one of the largest networks Baylor has.

“Wi-fi is a retro fit technology,” said Bob Hartland, associate vice president of IT infrastructure. Hartland said construction must be taken into consideration when providing Wi-fi to Baylor’s campus. ITS is adding new technology to an old and historical campus and has to consider the factors involved. Most buildings on campus weren’t designed with Wi-fi in mind, and thus materials such as concrete or certain types of brick can easily block the radio signals transmitted by access points. Wi-fi must be retro actively added to buildings and areas in order to create the network.

For example, the solid concrete floors, like those present in North Village, create a whole new problem. Concrete disrupts the signal. Ever floor must be designed individually to give everyone in the building access. The older dorms such as Memorial are provided with Ethernet cables due to the difficulties in creating a coverage zone for everyone living there. Even with a strong signal, three walls made of modern materials can block the waves. The AirBear wireless network is designed to circumvent these issues.
Once the decision was made and the funds were allocated, IT Infrastructure set the end of the Spring 2015 semester as the project deadline. The new area added to the network consists of four new access points, devices that send wireless signals. Each access point has a 360-degree range that extends for about 15 kilometers.
“Back in the old days, we had control of the environment,” Hartland said.
The AirBear network services many and varied devices. Lab computers were optimized for and directly connect to the Baylor network. A challenge in managing Wi-fi is the number and differences in personal devices. A phone with an out of date wireless driver can present an an issue for a user.
“Every device is as unique as the user themselves,” said David Klein, AirBear network administrator.
Klein handles any issues that users might have with the wireless network and oversees placement of access points. Once a compliant reaches the Client Services desk, Klein uses the information logged in the report to assess the situation.
“Behind every good wireless network is a good wired network,” said Scott Day, director of network and physical security technology.
Each access point that provides wireless coverage is linked to the physical Baylor network. This meeting of the wired network and the wireless coverage on campus provides seamless coverage. A person can walk from end of campus to the other and still be within AirBear’s range without any drops. Klein said AirBear’s coverage works in a manner similar to 4G coverage provided by cell phone companies.
“That’s interesting. I didn’t know that they added that,” said Mucia Flores, a Laredo junior, about the new additions to the AirBear network.
Overall, ITS encourages AirBear users to report problems to the Client Desk located in the Baylor Bookstore parking garage. Hartland said holes in coverage are expected, as no network is perfect. Users can help by reporting any issues that experience.