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Wireless works

last modified Nov 06, 2019 09:12 AM
Over 40% of the University's network traffic now goes over the wireless network. We've been making some significant enhancements to the Wireless Service over the past year to make it more resilient, experimenting with new wireless technologies, and planning future service enhancements...

Demand for wireless continues to grow

40% of the University’s internet traffic now goes over the wireless network. Our network now has 6,500 access points (APs) that serve up to 40,000 connected devices.

The stability and resilience of the network is vitally important to enable the University to go about its business, so the Wireless team are constantly working to improve and expand the network in order to be ready for any future demands placed on it.

Improving resilience and reducing technical debt

Full resiliency

In June 2018, we implemented full resiliency on our wireless controllers. This major step forward means that our wireless network is now capable of surviving the loss of one of our data centres. This involved significant changes to the underlying architecture that required a huge amount of planning to ensure there was no loss of service.

Wireless traffic separated from WCDC routers

Last December we moved the wireless system off the West Cambridge Data Centre (WCDC) routers on to its own connections on the University Data Network (UDN). By separating out the wireless network traffic, we have achieved a 90% reduction in the network traffic going via the routers in the WCDC.

Major upgrade of wireless service's operating system

In July this year, we upgraded to V8 of the operating system, from V6. There was no V7, so this represented a major change to how the system works and required a ground-up re-write of the wireless system's configuration. The system is now capable of supporting newer model access points and protocols.

It was a significant piece of work for the wireless team. It took six months planning and three staff working for six weeks solid on the implementation.

Trialling new location-based push technology

Bluetooth Beacon
These small, low-power wireless transmitters broadcast radio signals at regular intervals that can be heard and interpreted by iOS and Android devices equipped with mobile apps

During the second half of 2018, we worked with the Judge Business School to trial the use of Aruba's bluetooth beacons to provide location-based services to nearby devices.

Potential uses around the University could be to help people navigate their way around a building, or for museum visitors to get information about a particular exhibit while they’re stood next to it.

Some valuable lessons have been learnt from this trial – not least, gaining an appreciation of how much planning would be required to effectively deploy a solution using this technology.

We are planning to do further trials in order to help us understand what would be required before UIS could consider offering this as service to the University.

What’s next?

Network tokens for devices, not people

We will soon be changing the way people get network tokens, which will offer two benefits:

  1. People will create an individual token for each of their devices, so if one is lost, stolen or replaced, they will not have to reconfigure all their devices with a new token.

  2. We can provide "Institutional Tokens" to allow IT staff to create tokens for institutional devices that are not associated with their personal CRSid, which is problematic when that individual leaves the University.

The majority of the preparatory work for this has been done, and we are now determining an opportune date to launch the new tokens service. This is expected to be in the near future.

New features on the horizon

Looking further ahead, we are starting to plan the introduction of two more service enhancements:

  1. To support the increased demand inherent from the move towards BYOD, we are starting to plan the introduction of MAC-based device authentication for devices that don't support 802.1x (i.e. devices that only support using a WPA2 key to connect to a Wi-Fi network, rather than requiring personal authentication via a username and password), such as Apple TVs and PlayStations.

  2. We are also working to make connectivity easier for guests using the University Wireless Service.


Date: 31 October 2019

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