The University of Arkansas at Little Rock celebrated its conversion to a new uniform wireless network that has greatly improved the internet experience for the entire campus community.
Student Government Association President Larry Dicus removed the last legacy wireless access point on campus and installed the final modern wireless access point in its place during a ceremony on Nov. 13 in the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, the last of the 57 buildings on campus where the wireless network has been upgraded in the past 39 weeks.
“It’s a great achievement for campus,” said Dr. Thomas Bunton, associate vice chancellor and chief information officer. “For the first time, all classrooms, residence halls, shared spaces, and dining halls have similar technology that provides very fast wireless speeds and coverage. In previous years, the coverage and speeds students, staff, and faculty would experience depended on what building or department they were in and how much they could afford.”
UA Little Rock has invested more than $5 million to improve the university’s core network environment that consists of technology that originally was implemented in 2008.
“A project like this is significant,” said Dr. Mark Allen Poisel, vice chancellor student affairs. “The ability to access wireless is critical to our students. As we imagine how to reinvent the classroom experience, access to wireless is critical. We are at a time when technology changes so rapidly. This puts us in a position where we can change with that technology.”
When Bunton arrived on campus in March 2016, he saw a need to improve the campus’s aging network. IT Services has been working diligently to upgrade the campus network with current technology to support the university’s teaching and research missions, both now and into the future. The new network will provide campus users a modern, wireless networking environment that is sufficient to support faculty, researchers, student, and staff needs.
“I am very appreciative of the new wireless network,” Dicus said. “As a student, Netflix is important. Being able to do homework on campus, as opposed to going off campus to get wireless access, is something we really need.”
Among the improvements to the wireless network is an increased number of access points, faster speeds, and easier access for guests. UA Little Rock increased its Wi-Fi access points by a factor of seven from 600 to more than 3,200. While the average speed of those access points was 11 Mbps (megabytes per second), the speed has increased to nearly 500 Mbps.
The new wireless network also allows the university to better monitor and profile user devices, with an improved guest-user function that provides easier self-service access and more security features. In addition, the technology lays the groundwork for video surveillance and VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which will save the university $200,000 a year.
“This is an amazing accomplishment for UA Little Rock,” Bunton said. “We are probably one of the very few campuses in the country with a completely uniform, modern Wi-Fi network.”
Bunton thanked vendors HPE Aruba, Next Step Innovation, and Advanced Cabling for their hard work in bringing the new wireless network to fruition. He also thanked Chancellor Andrew Rogerson, Steve McClellan, vice chancellor of finance, the Student Government Association, and the Student Advisory Committee for their help in completing the project.
Now that all the wireless access points on campus have been transitioned to the new network, the next goal is to replace all the wired ports on campus – a project that should be finished in a year, according to Bunton.
In the upper right photo, Thomas Bunton, UA Little Rock director of Technology Infrastructure and Operations, holds a sign marking the completion of a campus wide networking system upgrade after installing the last piece of equipment in the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences. Photo by Ben Krain.