Faster internet, improved cell service to be implemented at VCU

Illustration by Summer McClure
Illustration by Summer McClure

Sebastian Grant
Contributing Writer

VCU will improve campus internet connectivity and cellular network capabilities in the coming weeks.

This internet overhaul began recently, as the university’s MARIA Circuit — the external network connection provided by the Mid-Atlantic Research Infrastructure Alliance — was multiplied tenfold, according to Alex Henson, VCU’s chief information officer.

On average, there are 20,000 devices connected to the VCU wireless network at any given time. That number is nearly triple what it was back in 2015, Henson said.

The bandwidth was upgraded from 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 100, immediately affecting the VCU Computer Center on Main Street. However, an upgrade to the network’s backbone to 40 Gbps is planned to be implemented by the end of 2018.

Such improvements in the near future will allow for improved connectivity to Researchnet — the research network used largely for the transfer of large data sets by students and faculty. According to Henson, the increased bandwidth capacity will benefit the entire VCU community.

“Patrons would have less issues transferring files. People complain a lot about the services [in the library]. Accessing files is another thing that would benefit a lot too from an upgrade,” said Coleman Jennings, a senior who works as a library assistant.
As it stands, overall feelings about the internet services among students are mixed.

“My tuition is being wasted every year on stupid stuff like this,” said Khalid Elshowaya, a sophomore studying biochemistry. “I pay large amounts of money and it seems like nothing else gets better.”

While some consider the current network capabilities insufficient in regard to supporting online coursework or hobbies, others are thankful the internet is not as bad as other places they have visited.

“I’ve found that, for the most part, I stay connected and updated throughout the day and across campus on a reliable and safe network,” said Kelsey Ward, a junior studying psychology. “Although it’s often not the fastest, I’m confident that learning is always at my fingertips.”

The university is also tackling the issue of certain areas suffering from weaker cell phone coverage than others.

“While cell coverage is good in most areas, there are some locations that could benefit from a stronger carrier signal,” Henson said.

One strategy to remedy this problem would be the addition of strategically-placed cell towers across campus, according to Henson. A school-wide meshed cell network is also being considered. The school is in talks with carriers to determine what plan would be most fulfilling and beneficial to students.

“Sometimes the call will drop, or it will break up mid-conversation,” Amber Pierson, a freshman living in Gladding Residence Hall said. “Sometimes that’s frustrating, because then I have to call people back, and sometimes I’ll just have to give up and text them.”

Today, students and staff on both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses can utilize upward of 3,750 wireless access points with an average weekly download of 43 terabytes. This proliferation of access points — up about 1,000 WAPs compared to three years ago — can be attributed to the initiative from VCU Technology Services to bring more widespread, stronger internet to the university.

To that end, according to Henson, VCU has already planned to replace all 3,750 access points within the next year. The access points will be swapped out for state-of-the-art hardware that will support dual-gig connections which allow devices to connect simultaneously with two networks.

“This will result in faster throughput speeds for faculty, staff, and students as well as make management of the system easier,” Henson said.

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