Wi-Fi Network Upgrade Project

As of July 2021, we are happy to announce the completion of several upgrades to the Wi-Fi network across campus since this project began in FY 2018. New Aruba equipment has been deployed in the majority of instructional buildings on campus but buildings that house mainly administrative functions and the sports/entertainment venues remain on the old / obsolete (7-10 year old) Cisco system (view Wi-Fi map). 

Wi-Fi is now the primary method by which students, staff, and faculty access the campus network and all other IT services. Our previous wireless network design and coverage did not adequately support the growing level of use, necessitating changes to the system. There is more work to do, and it will restart once additional funding is approved.

Goal

The goal of this project is to improve the density of our Wi-Fi network throughout campus over the next several years to improve performance and reliability, improve the campus user experience, increase the efficiency of our networking services and better support teaching and research.

We will achieve this by implementing a modern Wi-Fi network infrastructure which supports 802.11ac/ax 5.0GHz connectivity throughout campus, with a primary focus on educational and research spaces.

Project Scope

  • Our previous wireless infrastructure manufactured by Cisco Systems has aged and reached the end of its supported life. This project replaced our aging infrastructure with a modern solution manufactured by HPE/Aruba.  
  • Extensive installation of data cabling has been completed to support the installation of approximately 8,000 new access points and relocation of an additional 4,000.
  • Cabling for relocated and abated old Wi-Fi access points were removed.
  • This work was funded through June 2020 with a plan to have 45% of approximately 12,000 total WAPs (Wireless Access Points) installed by then. This estimate was based on the current projected design and modifications to the Wi-Fi system.

Current Status

All planned Wi-Fi updates that were funded have been made as of July 2021.  As the project has progressed, the goal for the number of WAPs to be deployed has decreased as a result of detailed design planning. The current goal for full Wi-Fi coverage is around 10,300 WAPs. Of these, around 6,500 would be funded by campus. The remainder are located in residence halls or funded by individual departments. To date, over 5,200 have been installed using Campus funding.  Around 800 obsolete access points must still be replaced, requiring an additional 1,300 new WAPs.

The map below shows Wi-Fi upgrades that have been completed, outdoor access points, and highlights Wi-Fi areas where there is poor or obsolete coverage (opportunity for future upgrades, depending on funding):

To see the difference between previous and current Wi-Fi design, view this diagram showing the improvements gained in Wi-Fi coverage for the Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB), one of the recent upgrades we have completed:

FAQs

When will you be improving Wi-Fi in my building? 

View the project map for current project status, further Wi-Fi upgrades will be completed when funding is acquired. 

If you have made improvements to Wi-Fi, why did we have issues at the beginning of fall semester?

We started Wi-Fi improvements in FY 2018, moving from Cisco Wi-Fi equipment to Aruba. The Aruba platform was chosen for implementation through an RFP, and provides a better Wi-Fi experience, especially for large classroom environments. Prior to the start of the pandemic in 2020, Aruba equipment had been deployed in the majority of instructional buildings on campus and was operating in a stable manner (see this map of the locations that have migrated to Aruba equipment, highlighted in green). The buildings that house mainly administrative functions and the sports/entertainment venues remain on the old / obsolete (7-10 year old) Cisco system. 

While diagnosing the widespread start-of-semester Wi-Fi issues that started Monday, Aug. 30 2021, we discovered that vendor software updates in late 2019 introduced a bug that causes system performance issues under peak load and high user roaming activity. Unfortunately, when COVID hit and faculty, students and staff went fully remote, it masked these bugs from being detected. As people returned to campus in large numbers this Fall and classroom activity ramped up, these bugs manifested, causing a painful and disruptive experience for faculty, students, and staff who use campus Wi-Fi. Although these issues were present around the world in Aruba equipment for many months, UC Berkeley was one of the first customers to detect these bugs, due to our large environment and the load that we are now placing on the equipment (many other college campuses were similarly affected). We engaged with the highest levels of vendor management, and are confident that we have their urgent attention on this issue, both for resolution of the immediate issues and for prevention of future problems. 

Fall Semester Wi-Fi Incident Timeline:

  • Aug. 30 - When the issues were first detected we started diagnosing the problem. It became quickly apparent that this was not something that we had previously experienced, so we engaged the vendor to troubleshoot and diagnose the issues. Over the next two days, workarounds were identified and implemented to stabilize the system. System stability was observed 9/2 in the afternoon through 9/7.
  • Sept. 8 - A software fix from the vendor was applied to the system, and while it fixed the problems identified, it uncovered an additional issue. Mitigations were implemented to stabilize the system that afternoon.
  • Sept. 9 - An instructor hotline was open with extended hours of operation to assist with any Wi-Fi issues impacting instruction. Additional workarounds were implemented to stabilize the system and it has remained stable since then. The vendor continues to work on a permanent fix and we are working with them on a plan to test / validate / and schedule the remaining fix in a way that minimizes / eliminates any further large scale disruption to instruction. 
  • Aug. 30 to Sept. 13 - As we proceeded with troubleshooting, we realized that the data captured through system monitoring was not providing a total picture of the actual user experience, so we dispatched personnel to perform on the ground testing at some of the hardest hit areas to fully understand what was occurring and to enhance troubleshooting efforts.

Individual issues that remain with connecting to Eduroam, etc. are being addressed on a case by case basis.

My building has been listed as already upgraded, but my performance on Wi-Fi is still poor. What should I do? 

Submit a ticket for a ITCS consultant to help. In order to take advantage of the upgrades to the campus Wi-Fi network, please ensure that you have a modern device with good quality Wi-Fi, in other words one which supports 802.11ac “Dual Band.”  USB adapters which improve Wi-Fi capability are available for laptops and desktops and can be a low cost solution to improving an older device’s connectivity.

I have my own Wi-Fi router because a) yours doesn’t work, b) yours doesn’t do something I’d like it to do, or c) because I’m not sure how all this works. What should I do? 

All Wi-Fi devices share the same amount of radio frequency and thus bandwidth. Operating your own Wi-Fi router reduces network performance and stability for both yourself and all other users of the Wi-Fi network in your vicinity. If you have specific network requirements which the current campus Wi-Fi offerings do not support, please open a service request with IST-Telecommunications regarding your Wi-Fi needs at your location. If you are utilizing your own Wi-Fi router because of poor performance at your location, please contact ITCS at (510) 664-9000, submit a ticket online, or email itcsshelp@berkeley.edu 

I am concerned about health issues having a Wi-Fi access point in my office/near my desk. 

There are no known health impacts from the radio transmissions utilized in Wi-Fi networking. All IST-Telecommunications Wi-Fi installations comply fully with campus EH&S safety requirements for non-ionizing radiation.

What can I expect when my building is being upgraded?

  • The building manager will work with IST and departments within the building to develop a schedule. The building manager will communicate regarding expected work plans with building occupants.
  • The building floor plan showing Wireless Access Point (WAP) locations will be reviewed with the building manager. Any adjustments to this design must be approved by IST.
  • IST will install cabling and WAPs to new locations.
  • IST will remove old WAPs and cabling.
  • IST will conduct a punch list walkthrough with building manager and contractor to identify and resolve any issues.

If you have any performance problems with Wi-Fi after the project completes in your building, submit a ticket requesting an ITCS consultant to help.

My device doesn’t support 802.11ac/ax. What can I do? 

The ac and ax standards are designed to be reverse compatible to all previous standards. If you wish to take advantage of the upgraded standards it may be best to purchase a new mobile device. For desktops and laptops, there are many USB 802.11ac and ax adapters which have been proven on campus to provide excellent results. Contact ITCS at (510) 664-9000, submit a ticket online, or email itcsshelp@berkeley.edu for additional assistance.

Why should I use Wi-Fi instead of a wired connection? 

The majority of new computing devices on campus do not have any wired ethernet port built in. Wired network connections require the installation of cable infrastructure which can be costly for a department. IST-Telecommunications is focusing its resources on improving Wi-Fi on campus, because it is now the primary network access method. Even desktop devices can use Wi-Fi with the installation of a USB Wi-Fi adapter. ITCS can advise you of options, call (510) 664-9000, submit a ticket online, or email itcsshelp@berkeley.edu.