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U. removes ethernet cables from residence hall dorms

U. cites sustainability, low Ethernet cable usage as reasons for going Wi-Fi only in dorms

Contributing Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2017

Computing and Information Services removed all Ethernet cable ports from residence halls this year, meaning they will all be Wi-Fi-only, according to an email sent out by the Office of Residential Life Aug. 23. The decision was “based on the extremely low usage of Ethernet at Brown and (was) also part of Brown’s initiative to become a greener and more sustainable campus,” according to the email. The decision was made in partnership with CIS, “based on the data that CIS provided,” said Richard Hilton, associate director of the Office of Residential Life.

The idea to increase wireless coverage on campus began in 2014, according to Ravi Pendse, vice president of CIS and chief information officer. At the beginning of that academic year, CIS distributed Ethernet cables to the incoming class of 2018 —  but almost all the students questioned the need for the cables, Pendse said, adding that most students’ laptops did not even have Ethernet connectors.

“As users, our habits change,” Pendse said, adding that there was a time when people preferred wired connectivity over wireless, but, now, the reverse holds true. “In 2016, less than 500 devices were registered for wired network,” he said. “In the spring of 2017, this number was down to less than 100.”

Due to this shift, the wireless coverage across campus, especially in residence halls, needed to be significantly enhanced, Pendse said.  As the number of wired connections in residence halls declined, students began demanding more bandwidth alongside more wireless connectivity, as they wanted to be mobile, he added. “If you are not connected to the wire, you are free. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want. The wire is not holding you back anymore.”

The alternative to making the transition to complete wireless connectivity was to upgrade all the wired ports, but this would have required a lot of resources that could have been invested elsewhere, Pendse said. Furthermore, upgrading the ports did not make much sense given the low usage rates, he added. There is also an added environmental benefit to going wireless. “Not having (Ethernet ports) makes us use less electricity and makes (the University) more sustainable,” Pendse said.

The residential hall-wide change comes after the testing of a smaller pilot program in 2014, when CIS replaced Ethernet ports with wireless connectivity in two residential halls, Young Orchard 2 and New Pembroke 2. There were no complaints from students in these residential halls following the change, and the speeds on wireless were actually faster than the speeds that the older Ethernet ports had provided, Pendse said. Given the pilot program’s success, CIS expanded wireless-only to all residential halls. 

Flannery McIntyre ’19 stated that she hasn’t been affected by the change to Wi-Fi-only.  “The internet is usually pretty good,” McIntyre said, adding that “it occasionally goes in and out, but it’s been like that since freshman year.” McIntyre had not noticed the lack of Ethernet cables in the dormitories.  “I feel like a lot of people didn’t use the Ethernet plugs anyway,” she said. 

In addition to increasing wireless coverage across campus, CIS has also introduced a new video conference service called Zoom. “Many students at Brown were asking for a strong video conferencing tool — especially those studying abroad, and those involved in research projects with collaborators all across the globe,” Pendse said.   

The challenge with routine services used for web conferences, such as Facebook or Skype, is that they are unreliable, Pendse said. “We needed something that worked all the time and had all the facilities that one needed,” he explained. He believes that Zoom serves that purpose: The tool allows up to 100 participants to join in on the same video session and allows users to record video to the cloud or their hard drives.  Zoom is freely available for members of the Brown community.

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