Out with the Old, In with the New Wi-Fi

By Molly Igoe
News Editor
Washington College students and faculty have reason to rejoice: there is finally a new Wi-Fi service, leaving in the past the days of logging on to your computer or phone every 10 minutes. The new service is called ClearPass and after initial trials over the summer in Bunting, William Smith, and Miller Library, it was made available to the whole campus on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

Scott Cowdrey, chief information officer, said, “About a year ago we started making improvements with the Wi-Fi, including upgrades on electronics and the 400+ access points throughout campus. This project got slowed down because of the fire last year, as some of the access points got lost, and we lost some equipment, but we were back on track by late fall. Then, the push to update our Wi-Fi really took hold last spring semester.”

Cowdrey explained that  ClearPass works through device authentication, where you log in with your device instead of through your personal ID, like you did to access Captive Portal. He said, “Captive Portal for Wi-Fi was not efficient, and what’s nice about device authentication is that each device has it’s own unique identity, so it is easily recognized anywhere on campus.”

The downside to this method of logging in is that if you lose your device, or someone steals it, that person will be able to connect to the Wi-Fi on campus and gain access to your personal information. To solve this, Cowdrey said, “We will probably have to implement more stringent requirements for lock screens on devices, meaning any device you use with this Wi-Fi will need to have a lock screen enabled. We are still figuring out how to balance this easier access with security concerns, but we strongly recommend using a lock screen function on all of your mobile devices.”

He said, “The gist of it is that we need to have a viable security layer. Prior to this we used Captive Portal, which was fairly secure, but had a short life-span because of security. So for now, we are just moving forward but will need to enhance the security aspect of things in the near future.”

The Wi-Fi will stay connected for a certain amount of time until you need to reset your password, which is generally every 90 days. Other peer schools that use this Wi-Fi service include Swarthmore College, Haverford College, and Washington and Lee University.

Another unique feature to ClearPass is the opportunity to use Eduroam. With this, a student can go to any campus in the country or around the world that also has Eduroam and use their same device to connect to the Wi-Fi there. They don’t need to log in or use guest access at all. Cowdrey said all the faculty and students he has spoken to at other campuses that have ClearPass & Eduroam are always elated to find out that they do not need to log in again as a guest.

Cowdrey also discussed the issue of Internet speed: “It really depends on how many people there are using a Wi-Fi access point. For example, if you have 20 people on one access point, they all share that bandwidth, so the speed will be much slower for each person than if you have only three people on that same access point’s bandwidth,” he said.
OIT is working to update access points on campus to increase their capacity, which will make the Internet speed better. They have already started replacing some of the access points in classrooms, and will continue to work in the classroom buildings before moving to other areas on campus.

There are other exciting updates that will bring WC into the “modern age of communication,” according to Cowdrey. There is a new GuestPass feature that allows a user to set up a guest WC account for one week for up to 12 hours per session, so they don’t have to keep logging in if they are visiting.
Cowdrey also said that the College is looking to partner with Chestertown to simplify student’s Wi-Fi experience  while they are downtown, and to make it easier for residents of Chestertown to connect to WC’s Wi-Fi while they are on campus.

Additionally, Kent County has a new Internet provider, FTS, who will expand Internet service throughout the county and add more Wi-Fi access points in Chestertown. Cowdrey is also finalizing a deal with Verizon to add them to WC’s cell tower so that students who use Verizon will have better service on campus.
If you need help connecting to the Wi-Fi on a device, please visit the ClearPass Help Desk link: www.washcoll.edu/offices/helpdesk/network-connect.php.

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