Wireless networking in the Forum

Wireless networking spectrum is a scarce resource.  In the 2.4GHz band (“802.11b/g”) there are essentially only three non-overlapping channels available.  Things are not quite as tight in the 5GHz band (“802.11a”), but there is by no means generous provision there either.  To make matters worse, these are not dedicated WiFi bands,  but are shared with bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, radar installations, baby alarms, and so on.  This makes provision of a reliable wireless service in the Forum difficult.

The problem is this: because of all the steel and concrete, we need to have quite a number of access points to cover as many nooks and crannies as we can.  However, there are open spaces too, and as a result many of the cells overlap with several neighbours, above and below as well as on the same floor.  The APs do their best to negotiate good channel allocations, trying to avoid each other and otherwise busy or noisy channels where possible, but don’t alway succeeed.

Any additional wireless activity is therefore likely to have a negative impact on the service for the rest of the users in the Forum. This makes it essential that anyone contemplating operating any kind of wireless equipment in the Forum must discuss this with the support team beforehand.  Please submit a support request in the usual way.  (Note that the School’s policy on self-managed machines requires this.)  This includes both WiFi networking and any other use of the same wireless bands.

Please be aware that many pieces of equipment may have a wireless mode of operation, and in some cases this is even enabled by default.  If there is a corresponding “wired” mode, we would always recommend using that instead, as this is faster as well as being more secure and reliable.  In such cases, the wireless side should be turned off.  (Support can arrange for additional (wired) network ports to be enabled if necessary.)  Examples of these devices have included backup appliances and some multimedia equipment.

However, we have also noticed cases of phones and other similar portable appliances being operated in access-point mode.  If you have this enabled on yours for whatever reason, please remember to turn it off again.  Turn off bluetooth as well, while you’re at it.  You’ll find your battery life is better too!

When we installed the wireless network in the Forum we gave priority to good coverage for meeting rooms.  Other than some issues on the ground floor, caused in part by rogue APs, we believe that the meeting rooms are reasonably well covered.  However, if you have any comments on the wireless service, in the meeting rooms or elsewhere in the Forum, we would be very pleased to hear from you.  We can’t definitely promise to fix it, given the nature of the building, but any information would be useful.  Thank you!

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