Wireless Login System Fails upon Full Return to Learn

Since the beginning of Fall Quarter 2021, students and faculty on campus have reported experiencing issues connecting to UC San Diego campus Wi-Fi. The cause of this has been the campus’ centralized internet infrastructure unable to support the large increase in usage as the campus returns to full occupancy, in addition to record-breaking student enrollment numbers

In response to an inquiry sent to The UCSD Guardian regarding student and faculty concerns, the Information Technology Services (ITS) provided the following information. 

James Seddon, the Associate Director, Network and Voice Operations, ITS, explained that the authentication system failed during the immediate and large increase of account users, despite their efforts in designing the system with this size in mind. In the first few weeks of the quarter, students may find it harder than usual to log into the UCSD Protected Wi-Fi.

“Some readers may not realize that running Wi-Fi for a large campus like this is very different than running Wi-Fi in your house primarily because of the vast geographic area that’s covered: 400 buildings and a couple of thousand acres,” Seddon said. “And the number of users that are using it, you know, we’ve seen peak concurrent usage of 67,000 people using the Wi-Fi all at the same time.”

According to Seddon, unlike home Wi-Fi, a special, centralized infrastructure was set up in order to meet the internet needs of an entire campus. Due to a component failure in the authentication/login system, the entire campus has experienced poorer Wi-Fi quality. 

“Tens of thousands of users all get up and move exactly the same time — basically the class-changing time,” Seddon said. “And as those users are moving around campus, their tablets and laptops often try to automatically connect to the network. Those devices have to authenticate log into the wireless network at each building they pass. [Then] our authentication system was getting overloaded, and it would take a long time to recover from that.”

ITS made many system changes at the start of the quarter to resolve the failing authentication/login system, including tripling the number of authentication servers. Those changes stabilized the login infrastructure, which has been performing as expected since Oct. 1. Seddon also mentioned UCSD’s intentions to mend the issue through a redesign of the authentication system, which, if successful, should have an invisible transition process. 

“We’re also going to conduct a redesign of our authentication infrastructure from scratch, to try to utilize the lessons learned this fall.” Seddon said, “Over the next few years, you can see the construction that’s going on on campus.”

A number of students have expressed that these connectivity issues affect their daily routines. Unable to connect her tablet to campus Wi-Fi, Katherine McGraw, a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt College, goes to the Sun God Computer Lounge in order to access stable internet. 

“I cannot get on either Guest or Protected [Wi-Fi] right now,” McGraw said in an interview with The Guardian. “That’s why I am taking paper notes instead of computer notes. Though I usually go to the Lounge between classes, definitely I do have to go out of my way to get there, instead of just stopping where I want with my laptop. I’ve been doing so [since the] beginning [of] this academic year.” 

Yijun Wang, a biochemistry sophomore at ERC, reported that she could not access a stable internet connection in her Pepper Canyon campus housing. 

“I have to turn on my mobile hotspot to do my homework,” Wang said. “I tried the UCSD Protected and the UCSD Guest, but neither of them is fast enough. I can barely watch the lecture videos and play computer games.”

Wang further mentioned that there was a day where the Analytics Writing Program instructor had to conduct their lecture orally, without PowerPoint presentations, because of the inaccessibility of the Wi-Fi at lecture halls. 

These issues have also frustrated UCSD faculty such as Jennifer Carr, a UCSD professor in the philosophy department. In an interview with The Guardian, Carr stated that a lot of times she can barely connect to UCSD Protected in her new office at the Ridge Walk Building. For her, Mondays are particularly difficult when it comes to securing a steady Wi-Fi connection.

Seddon pointed out that the previously installed system worked well up until Summer Quarter 2020, but that ITS knew it would not support the number of users expected in Fall Quarter 2021. The new system was designed for Fall Quarter 2021 usage levels. However, it unexpectedly failed despite these efforts.

“We knew that [outgrowing account] was going to be a problem, so we acquired a best-in-class industry-standard enterprise-level authentication system from a major vendor and installed it in the summer of 2020,” Seddon said. “When we set that up, we designed it for the usage levels that we anticipated seeing this fall, for a fully-populated canvas.”

Despite these upgrades, Seddon said that the new authentication/login system did not perform to expectations.  

“Unfortunately, it’s just impossible to test a fully-loaded campus on a system like that,” Seddon added.

If internet connectivity issues persist, please refer to the Campus Wi-Fi Status Page for more tips or IT Help Desk FAQ. In addition, please report any Wi-Fi problems to the service desk, either by submitting a request via the Service Portal, email, phone call at (858) 246-4357, or walking into the Applied Physics & Mathematics Building (AP&M) 1313 from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Correction: This article was edited at 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 18 to clarify new information provided on the UCSD Wi-Fi situation.

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