Editor, PlanetArabia Magazine
It is unusually hot for this time of year, and the frustratingly slow Internet connection speed on campus just adds wood to the fire. The muffled uneasiness caused by the weather is mixed with irritated annoyance with the Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, demanding some kind of solution.
“It’s bad! It’s horrible! The Wi-Fi has such a short range and disconnects repeatedly!” Elie Yaghi, 18-year-old marketing student remarks.
“This is simply a waste of time,” adds Joseph Saikali, 20-year-old Information Technology and Operations Management (ITOM) student. “The continued loss of connection and repeated attempts to re-connect, are time consuming and defeat the purpose of having wireless connection.”
“Downloading even a small file can be an uncomfortable experience,” he adds. “You start to download, then you are disconnected, you then reconnect, and half way through, you have to start all over again.”
The Cisco Systems infrastructure was installed on campus in 2004. The high speed network architecture allows for the delivery of greater performance as compared to cable-based networks, allowing for multimedia services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video.
The network is constantly being upgraded by LAU’s Information Technology Department. However, it is plagued by many inhibiting factors which adversely affect its performance and connectivity speed. Some of those factors are beyond the control of the University and need to be addressed and resolved by the Ministry of Telecommunications, while a number of other factors can be solved by LAU itself.
The performance of the network as observed at different times over a period of five days, shows that speed and connectivity deteriorate sharply between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. This time period is referred to as the “peak time,” during which traffic reaches its highest levels, with almost all LAU students and faculty present on campus.
The network seems to be sufficient to cater to user requirements between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., during which LAU campus is not crowded. Internet connection is noticeably fast. However, during peak time, the campus begins to fill up and the speed starts to dwindle.
Starting at 3 p.m., students begin to clear out and the WI-FI signal begins to strengthen, however, the connection is not as fast as it is in the morning, for two main reasons –namely students are at the library studying or are using the Internet at student dormitories in buildings on and around the campus.
The WI-FI connection on smartphones is seen to be slower as compared to the WI-FI connection on laptops. In addition, the Internet connection in the Library’s computers and in the computer labs is much faster than the connection on smartphones and laptops.
Moving from one building to the next, the WI-FI signal is noticed to be stronger in different locations. For example, the signal is strongest in the Business Building, but weak in Sage Hall and moderate in Nicol Hall.
Rola Hbeish, Manager at Terranet, blames the slow connectivity speed on several factors. “First, Ogero connections and infrastructure are outdated and incapable of accommodating the ever-increasing traffic in Lebanon, with over 1 million Syrian refugees added to the already burdened network,” she says.
“The Minister of Telecommunications had also last year lowered Internet prices without expanding the network, and the lower prices meant greater demand while supply remained the same,” she adds.
In 2004, when the system was installed, Wi-Fi usage was limited to portables and not every student needed to use the Wi-Fi network. Today with the intensified use of smart phones and handheld devices, every student and faculty on and around campus is constantly accessing the network using his/her smart phone.
Aya Abu-Ghazaleh, 18-year-old freshman shared her experience. “The main problem I face with LAU Wi-Fi is that I have to constantly log-in every time I change my location,” she says. “For example, when I am on the ninth floor at the library and I connect to the Wi-Fi, as soon as I walk out to the smoking area, the Wi-Fi disconnects. I think it’s very inconvenient to have to continuously log-in.”
Wassim Nahra, Network Analyst at LAU’s IT Department, acknowledges this problem. “LAU is working diligently to resolve this issue and a new upgrade will soon be installed to allow auto-login as users move from access point to the next,” he says.
“The auto-login will allow users to connect automatically to the network upon their return to campus after extended absences,” Nahra adds. “We are also constantly upgrading and tuning the network to enhance user experience.”
The IT specialist attributes slow browsing speed to “the control mechanism installed by LAU to prevent unauthorized access to restricted and malicious websites,” which means that connection requests are routed through the control mechanism instead of going directly to the Internet, causing a connection delay.
However, Saikali disagrees. “Infrastructure on campus is outdated,” he points out. “Since its installation in 2004, strides were made in the information and communication technology (ICT) field. Upgrades and patches do not seem to be solving the problem. Perhaps it’s now time to migrate to a totally new state of the art system.”
Hbeish believes that this problem of slow connectivity in Lebanon is temporary. She emphasizes that the Ministry of Telecommunications is in the process of expanding the network and user capacity to allow for greater speed as well as to generate more revenue out of the network. “The change is coming, but it may take some time before we see actual results materializing on the ground,” she explains.
Nahra also assures that LAU “is working very hard to upgrade its infrastructure to meet the ever-growing requirements of students and faculty at the University. In the interim, while additional hardware and upgraded software is being installed on the network backbone, users may experience some interruptions and reduced performance.”
“This however will be temporary, and we will do our utmost to make the experience as seamless as possible,” he adds.