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First photo Mary Wezyk kneels to work on a power strip on wall; second photo: Chad Wade leans in toward wall to work on access point installation
Mary Wezyk and Chad Wade of ITS Networking install additional access points in Cobb dorm in June 2022

When first-year students moved into Cobb, Ehringhaus and Craige dorms in mid-August, few likely gave their strong, stable wireless connection a second thought. The students expected it, just like water and electricity.

“I just kind of assumed the Wi-Fi would be good,” first-year Anna Gore of Charlotte said as she walked out of Cobb on the third day of classes. In those initial days in her new dorm, she said internet service in Cobb had been working well.

Fellow Cobb residents Addyson Thomas of Lenoir and Samuel Joshua of Charlotte also gave a thumbs up to the wireless connection. Kenneth Lim of New York state said his laptop’s Wi-Fi wasn’t as strong in the bathroom, but Cobb’s wireless was “pretty good” overall.

Significantly boosted capacity and coverage

What residents of these residence halls didn’t know is that ITS Networking staffers toiled the entire summer — at least 10 hours five days a week plus some Saturdays — drilling, hammering, cutting Sheetrock and pulling wires to boost the internet strength by installing an access point in every single dorm room.

Overcoming the monotonous, dusty and sweaty work in spaces where air conditioning was off over the summer, crew members in these three dorms from the last week of May through the end of July installed more than 800 Wi-Fi access points. They moved and remounted at least 540 data boxes and ran the cable back to them. Data boxes near the floor by a desk could easily get bumped. The ITS staffers had to move them up near the ceiling. In addition, they had to replace older access points that the vendor no longer supports. In addition, the team added more switches in the telecom closets on each floor, to carry the data back out to the internet.

A man crouches by a utility cart in a hallway of Cobb dorm.
Kevin Clayton of ITS Networking works on the access points project at Cobb dorm in June 2022

In the residence halls where work was completed, the number of access points tripled, significantly increasing capacity and coverage, said Ryan Turner, interim Director of ITS Networking.

Big, challenging project

Since the initial deployment of pervasive campus wireless, this was by far the biggest project by scale in such a short period of time and the most challenging in the seven years that Reid Bradsher, Manager of ITS Network Deployment, has worked for ITS.

Bradsher feels good that his team has provided a much better internet experience for students in these dorms. His team, he said, takes pride in knowing that residents have better coverage, whether for working on class assignments, playing games, streaming video, Facetiming or for whatever they’re using their internet connection.

Back when ITS participated in the initial Wi-Fi installation in Carolina’s dorms, access points were placed in hallways, which meant a dozen residents might have shared one access point. With all that sharing plus cinderblock walls, the wireless signal in dorm rooms could be weak. Connections sometimes dropped. Over the years, the number of devices proliferated and the demand for data bandwidth for school, work and play intensified.

Housing committed to enhancing connectivity

As Carolina Housing has had funds to boost wireless connections in its residence halls, the department has enlisted ITS to upgrade several dorms at a time during summer breaks when ITS staffers can work in the space while students are away. “Housing has made the commitment to allow us to enhance the previous coverage with improved wireless density,” Turner said.

“Our residential students demand high speed, reliable wireless connectivity,” said Rick Bradley, Carolina Housing Director of Administrative Services. “It is more important today than it ever has been, and our work with ITS to achieve this has led to greater resident satisfaction.”

Improving service year after year

Before this newly completed project at Cobb, Ehringhaus and Craige, ITS Networking improved Wi-Fi at Avery, Lewis, Everett and Carmichael dorms during summer 2019 by installing 450 access points. That’s about half the number of access points of this Cobb, Ehringhaus and Craige project. So, for this summer 2022 project, ITS installed double the access points as 2019 while also grappling with supply chain issues and being understaffed. Prior to 2019, at different times, ITS — with help from contractors on the cable work — strengthened wireless connections in Baity Hill apartments, Craige North, Horton, Koury and Ram Village.

Staffers devoted their summer to project

Let’s get back to this recently completed project at Cobb, Ehringhaus and Craige dorms. Five staffers worked solely on this project all summer. Several other ITS employees jumped in and out as needed while handling other work for the University. Another team member picked up all the help tickets and otherwise kept other things running, enabling the four Networking team members to devote all their time to boosting wireless in Cobb, Ehringhaus and Craige.

Supply issues complicated the work

A man stands on a ladder as he installs an access point on the wall near the ceiling.
Dale Oxendine of ITS Networking installs access points in a Cobb dorm room in June 2022

Along the way, ITS contended with supply issues. To source 540 data boxes, Networking — with help from the ITS Warehouse team — had to buy from two vendors plus a few more from Amazon. Such a massive project also required thousands of concrete screws and numerous drill bits, hammer drills and other hand tools.

In addition to buying from the ITS Warehouse and the University’s Facilities Services Storeroom, Bradsher had to scour multiple locations of the major home improvement store chains to source what ITS needed for the project.

“I felt like I lived at Home Depot and Lowe’s for a couple weeks stocking up on supplies,” he said.

He’d buy all the Tapcon concrete screws a store had and the next morning he’d go on to another store to clean out that big-box retailer of concrete screws. For the entire team, Bradsher said, it was “a big job in a very, very short period of time.”

Gratifying to improve students’ experience

Accomplishing what the ITS staff members did in two months “is unprecedented, especially during a supply chain problem we have in the country right now. Starting out, we were wondering was it going to happen.”

Bradsher lauded his crew and all the ITS staffers who pulled together and gave 110% to complete this project. It’s gratifying for the team, he said, knowing that their work significantly improves the students’ experience in their residence halls.

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