Solving Remote WiFi Issues at the University of Rhode Island

University of Rhode Island Leaps to Remote Education

Abstract: The University of Rhode Island (URI) took proactive steps to protect student health and maintain its high standards of education by embracing remote education.  Students attended classes and took tests from their dorms and group gatherings were limited. Yet they were more dependent than ever on 3500 wireless access points with 13000 Wi-Fi clients scattered across 4 campuses (in 4 different cities). Making things worse, WiFi problems were very hard to detect and diagnose. So they looked for an easy to deploy network performance monitoring solution to help them resolve issues quickly and found NetBeez.1) ISPs and VPNs 

In October we had a chance to talk to Christopher Pepper at The University of Rhode Island about their pivot to remote education. As more organizations embrace “the new remote” for safety and productivity his early experiences and results become relevant well beyond the campus.

2020: When Network Complexity Met Criticality

When the University switched to remote education its network became even more strategic to its vision of delivering academic excellence. It also became vastly more complex. More than 10,000 students would now be accessing instruction and taking exams online via a 4 campus WiFi network built mostly for Internet access instead of core instruction.

“Students need the internet more than ever as they’re staying in dorms. If they have issues but are unable to leave their dorm it is especially problematic.”

– Christopher Pepper, Network Engineer, The University of Rhode Island

Early in the semester students began experiencing outages. The problem: they didn’t have the tech expertise to self-diagnose their WiFi issues. So help desk calls surged and the network team didn’t have practical options for sending engineers to determine root cause and repair in dorms scattered across four campuses in four different cities.

Intermittent Remote WiFi Issues Across 4 Campuses

Even worse, the problems were very hard to detect and diagnose. With existing tools everything looked fine. But the user experience was unacceptable, especially during exams. The problems were intermittent, requiring engineers to dedicate hours in each attempt to diagnose an outage. That wasn’t a viable solution as classes were getting underway.

“(Before NetBeez) You could spend forever (trying to diagnose the problem) and not figure it out.”

– Christopher Pepper

Christopher explored WiFi network performance monitoring solutions and chose NetBeez, because of its ease of deployment and ability to collect raw data at scale. The team quickly deployed sensors across each campus. They started collecting historical data and could identify previously unobservable patterns and identify a common root cause. The student’s devices were hopping WiFi channels and access points. The network was fine. The device settings were the problem. The good news: these issues could be fixed within an hour.

“With NetBeez we gained the ability to determine root cause and solve intermittent WiFi problems in under an hour.”

Sometimes the simplest problems can be virtually impossible to fix, because they cannot be detected without considerable time and resources. When they’re occurring across thousands of devices in multiple cities it’s even worse. But when you can quickly detect and diagnose a simple problem it can be a game changer.

The PlayBook: Diagnosis and Remediation in Under an Hour

Once the team could diagnose and fix the issue, they developed a playbook, which helped them take a more proactive “been there. done that” stance and improve the student online experience. They went from being blind to an issue and facing the prospect of endless cycles of guesswork to a quick and accurate detection and solution.

Thank you Christopher for contacting us and spending a few minutes sharing your NetBeez experience!

Read The University of Rhode Island Case Study

Are you interested in knowing how to solve remote WiFi issues? Read the entire case study here, or watch the webinar recording here where we interview Chris Pepper from URI.

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