Information Technology Services (ITS)

Upgrades to U of T wireless address capacity issues

Published on: February 27, 2023

In the spring of 2021, ITS’ Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions team, along with their counterparts at UTM and UTSC, began replacing the entire legacy wireless infrastructure of over 10,000 access points with the latest generation of Wi-Fi-6 technology across all three University of Toronto campuses. Deploying this new generation of wireless technology has had a positive impact on locations where the wireless coverage had been highly stressed due to capacity limitations.

Douglas Carson, Senior Manager, Enterprise Networking, led this project for the EIS team. Douglas explains, “Over the past several years, the average number of devices carried by an individual on campus has grown from about 2.3 to over three. This is the equivalent of 10,000 more devices on the campus network. This, combined with new services requiring much higher bandwidth, meant that the infrastructure that was designed 10 years ago was starting to collapse under all this extra demand. This was particularly a problem in high-density locations like Convocation Hall.”

To address this increase in demand, the tri-campus team began by replacing the oldest existing technology first (i.e., the Meru Access Points) with higher capacity Aruba models. These older APs represent the greatest operational risk and were causing the most problems. The new Wi-Fi-6 APs now being deployed support the latest wireless protocols which are much faster than the protocols supported by any of the older legacy technologies. These APs also have significantly more processing power to support a greater number of client devices. Additionally, as part of the upgrade process, supplementary APs are being added to address ‘dark corners’ where the existing coverage has been insufficient.

“The work being done by EIS is having a significant impact on the whole U of T community — from emergency Wi-Fi upgrades to long-term solutions,” says Bo Wandschneider, CIO. “As our use of technology evolves and demands upgraded infrastructure, our staff have responded with an in-depth understanding of the issues, users and overall impact.”

As of winter 2023, the UTSC campus has been completely converted to the new wireless technology and is operating at a much faster pace as a result.

While impactful strides have been made, progress has been much slower than anticipated due to global supply-chain shortages making it difficult to receive new equipment. As conditions improve, the team is continuing to focus on replacing the oldest technologies while also addressing significant issues affecting the learning and teaching environment. The goal is to have UTM fully converted by the end of 2024. UTSG, being much larger than the other two campuses, will likely take another year to complete; however, with the focused rollout of the new technology, areas experiencing major performance issues should start to rapidly disappear.

Positive feedback from the community has assured the EIS team that the right steps have been taken and continued progress will benefit staff, students and faculty in an impactful way.

“Yesterday, for the first time since the pandemic began, I was using Team Up! in my Con Hall BIO130 class and well over 1,000 students were able to simultaneously sign into it and use it.” – Melody Neumann, PhD, Director, Human Biology Program, Department of Cell and Systems Biology

“I’ve had multiple students come up to me to express their appreciation for the Wi-Fi upgrades – it’s made a huge difference. Thanks to you and your team for making this happen!” – Rob Page, IT admin at Rehabilitation Sciences