Staff Editorial: Wifi improves on campus

RPI is finally completing support for WPA2—a bit late, considering WPA2 became a standard in 2004 and all devices since 2006 are required to support it, but better late than never. For those who don’t know, the main difference between WPA2 and our current 802.1x is that the former is better supported by devices (like Android phones and tablets) and uses significantly stronger encryption. New wireless access points are also being installed around campus to combat complaints of spotty coverage, which is great.

Another proposed policy that aims to improve reception is to reduce the number of or eliminate other networks on campus. RPI strongly frowns on students running their own networks with wireless routers, because there is limited spectrum available for wi-fi. This, in addition to the inherent security risks with unsecured routers, far outweighs the benefits of having a router in one’s dorm room, which are utilized solely to add more ethernet ports than are provided in the rooms or being able to access the Internet with devices such as smartphones and gaming platforms like the Xbox 360 and PS3. However, the WPA2 network can be connected to by many of these devices, and a web-auth network is currently being tested in the Rensselaer Union (which can theoretically be used by any device with a web browser).

As for needing more ethernet ports than are provided in the dorms, one solution may be to replace routers with ethernet switches, which give the same access to multiple ports without interfering with the RPI network. These switches are fairly inexpensive; most are cheaper than wireless routers. However, for anyone who wants a switch but cannot, for whatever reason, obtain one, the Office of Residential Education could offer a rental program where students could borrow switches for as long as they need them—for a much smaller fee—and then return them. This would hopefully greatly reduce the need or want for routers on campus.

Adding support for WPA2 increases the security of Rensselaer’s wireless network and allows devices like smartphones to access the network, and installing more access points means better wi-fi signal in more places on campus. Both of these are good moves by the school; the benefits of more security and more access cannot be denied. But we as students have to work with the Institute and stop using personal routers, especially when alternative solutions are available. Cooperation is key to providing the best wi-fi access to everyone.