By Junghyun Song
On average, once every two weeks, I see a Facebook post on Koestraat All Floors, asking “Is anybody having a wifi problem?”. And immediately, there would be several responses, ranging from “mine is working fine”, “mine stopped working too!”, “mine works but it is extremely slow” to “mine hasn’t been working for two weeks now”. I observed that the frequency of people asking about wifi-related issues on UCR and Koestraat Facebook page has skyrocketed since the installation of this new wifi. Indeed, sometimes, my neighbor would ring my bell to ask if my wifi is still working or if my Whatsapp app is working on my phone. All these never really happened pre-Eduroam.
As such, I finally decided to devote an article to Eduroam wifi- the source of new disruption in many of UCR students’ lives. For this article, I managed to interview six people from UCR and their experiences and views are the focus of this article.
The installation process has been quite smooth for many people, especially those living in Bagijnhof campus as the installation was arranged by house elders. Nevertheless, there were quite a few who had a lot of difficulties getting Eduroam set up. Most of these people were the ones who were gone for the winter break. This complicated the process of setting up the Eduroam router as they were not present when the first round was being made. For example, one of my interviewees, M.H, missed the first round as she went back home early in December. So, she tried to reach IT helpdesk over the break to arrange a date but all her messages were largely ignored. She finally managed to get the Eduroam router set up two days before the start of this semester.
The case for A.M, my other interviewee, was even worse as she still did not have her Eduroam wifi installed at the time of the interview (13th April). It has been absolutely difficult for her to schedule an appointment with the technicians. As she follows her online classes from her parent’s house, she has to find time to make a long trip to Middelburg solely for this appointment. However, she only gets notified of a new round the day before via emails from IT helpdesk but “there is no guarantee that the technicians would actually show up.” Furthermore, each round is never more than a few days as the latest one, according to her, was on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In fact, most of the time, the exact date and the exact times are not decided upon and it is always “a maybe”. A.M showed me the latest email she received from IT helpdesk to exemplify this:
Due to the widely varying installation times, it was decided not to agree on dates and times on these installation days. I can add you however to tomorrow’s list, but unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that the technician will make it. Despite this, will I still put you on the list for [date]?
Kind Regards, Helpdesk
As the exact date and exact time is never decided on, it immensely complicates the planning of her trip to Middelburg and at the moment, A.M is using her old wifi when she is briefly in Middelburg.
For J, the scheduling of installation was not difficult at all. But the actual process of installation frustrated him a great deal as the technicians behaved very unprofessionally. According to him, the technician not only dropped his old private router but also remarked about how messy his room was in Dutch. J is Dutch but he was mistaken for English by the technicians who took the liberty of making very personal comments in his very presence.
“ (the technician) actually… dropped my previous router, my private one. And he said, well ‘you don’t need it anymore anyway’…He said it in Dutch, assuming I didn’t understand. That was horrible. Yeah, he (also) called my room messy… Basically, I accidentally understood him talking s*** about me.” (J, Bagijnhof)
After hearing this story from him, I got a little uneasy because my room was also very messy back when the technicians came to install. Also, I could vaguely recall them talking among themselves in Dutch, which in retrospect, could have been about my room. But as my Dutch is very bad and my memory is very faulty, I can never ascertain this.
The First Hitch: Getting The Router Connected
After finally getting it installed, the Eduroam router did not work for many people. M.H told me that she spent the first three weeks without wifi and practically lived at her friend’s house to follow her online classes. She estimated that about five out of eight friends that she asked had no wifi for a solid month after getting Eduroam installed. She also added, “IT desk did not respond to any of them.”
During those three weeks, M.H did everything that she could to get her new router connected but it never worked. As IT helpdesk could not find a solution for her either, she eventually unplugged her Eduroam router and is now using her old wifi.
“…then I unplugged it because they (IT help desk) ignored me again and couldn’t help me. And now I am living on my old wifi and if they (IT help desk) cancel that one I am severely f***ed.” (M.H, Koestraat)
J also drove this point home by stating that while getting the router installed was not a huge problem, it took a while for it to actually start working at Bagijnhof.
For these people who never managed to get their Eduroam wifi connected, most of them resorted to their old wifi which UCR strongly advises against. However, for some people, even their old wifi which previously has never caused any problems has been working weird since the installation of Eduroam.
“…but the old wifi seems to be weird now too…it (no longer) connects to my lamp or pinter and I have no clue why because it used to…” (M.H, -)
The Second Hitch- Inconsistency
Inconsistency is one of the most frequent keywords encountered in many of my interviewee’s testimonies. For example, I.D who recently moved to Roggeveenhof from Bagaijnhof told me that back in her old campus, Eduroam wifi worked fine except on her phone. The problem did not improve even after moving to Roggeveenhof.
“ Eduroam wifi doesn’t work on other devices-even now at Rogge, sometimes it doesn’t work. It says it’s connected, but I don’t get messages or notifications for my emails. …but when I turn on data, I get a bunch of notifications. I never had this problem with my old wifi…” (I.D, Roggeveenhof)
I think the inconsistency inherent in Eduroam wifi can be further exemplified by my own personal experience. Two weeks before spring break, the internet connection in my room was so bad that I got kicked out of class several times. I had exams and presentations for that week so I got extremely worried especially for my online exam as the exam instruction on Moodle stated that “Note, it is your responsibility to have a stable internet connection and optimal working conditions.” Eventually, I went to my friend’s house to do the exam and presentation. Strangely enough, even though we lived in the same campus and on the same floor, my neighbor’s wifi worked fine while mine kept crashing.
However, exactly a week later, the situation got reversed. Now, it was her wifi’s turn to crash, causing her to get constantly kicked out of her classes. Indeed, I.D also faced similar issues during the mid-term where her neighbor who lived further down the hall had a stable connection while hers kept crashing. Just like what I did, she also had to move to her neighbor’s place to follow classes and complete online exams.
Indeed, the common experience among many of my interviewees is that during the mid-term, they had at least a week or two where they had very unstable or no internet connection at all. However, the connection never really cuts out at the same time as illustrated by I.D’s case and mine, so they could still compensate for this by going to their friend’s house for classes or exams (which can be very annoying).
Another inconsistent aspect of Eduroam wifi is that sometimes, while it works fine on all devices, it does not work on some apps. This has never happened to me before but a lot of my neighbors in Koestraat have had this problem where their Eduroam wifi worked on Whatsapp but not on Instagram or vice versa.
The Third Hitch-Unstable and Slow Connections
As already briefly touched upon, Eduroam wifi can be characterized by unstable connections which have been a deep source of concern for many people at UCR. This frustration is succinctly captured in J’s comment below:
“The thing that infuriates me most is where it just randomly cuts out constantly”
J works at the Covid-19 hotline which requires him to have stable internet connections to answer his clients. As such, J prefers to use his old private router which almost never crashes and has a faster internet speed (600 megabits per second) than Eduroam but IT helpdesk has blocked his router once they found out:
“If you want to use your private router, they’re just going to shut you down.”
This has been a point of dispute for over 3 months between J and IT helpdesk. Recently, as Eduroam kept crashing at his place, he lost 100 bucks for his job.
Another issue with Eduroam is the slow connection. In fact, the day before the interview, J measured the internet speed in his room and it was 6 megabits per second which was incomparably slower than his private router (600 megabits per second). Indeed, a lot of people I spoke to told me that Eduroam can be very slow to the point where you cannot even play HD videos anymore.
Unhelpful IT helpdesk
As already hinted at above, nearly everyone that I spoke to was very unhappy with the UCR IT helpdesk which is the first point of contact whenever students run into internet problems or any technological issues. The common complaint was mainly concerning the poor response rate. Furthermore, even when the IT desk finally replies to the emails after days of delay, they often do not give you any viable solutions.
“Problems don’t really get solved. (They) Only explain why it happens but don’t really tell you how to tackle it. They don’t really give a solution or a delayed reply” (I.D, Roggeveenhof)
“I don’t think that the IT helpdesk is helpful anymore because the student volunteers are no longer allowed to respond to queries immediately, which means not getting answers quickly enough. When they were allowed to respond quickly, that helped…” (N.S, Bagijnhof)
J also had very strong opinions about IT helpdesk, especially regarding their attitude:
“I just have times where they don’t answer emails for over two days or where people answer at all, they are just extremely rude…UCR IT helpdesk is the worst customer therapist I’ve ever experienced. It’s not even an understatement…”
Rights To Choose and Privacy Concerns
Those who have already had problems with their old wifi did not mind transitioning to Eduroam wifi. However, those who have a well-functioning private router were greatly annoyed and frustrated by being obligated to switch especially since Eduroam proved to be a lot worse than their old wifi.
Another point of concern with Eduroam wifi was that of privacy. A lot of people are not happy with the fact that it is not protected. Even one interviewee who was mostly happy with Eduroam did express her concern about the privacy issues:
“I guess the only upside to using the old wifi would have been more privacy and less fear of the university snooping around for what students are doing online… I think respecting the student’s privacy is also very important and I’m not sure how far that goes with Eduroam…” (N.S, Bagijnhof)
Entirely ignoring the technological aspects, I think it might have been better to let people choose for themselves. In other words, those who prefer their old wifi should have been allowed to keep their old wifi instead of being forced to switch to the new wifi. After all, student’s rights to choose should be respected.
More Nuanced View on Eduroam- Jacob Scharmberg
Jacob, my last interviewee, gave me a lot of fresh and balanced perspectives on Eduroam wifi as he is very knowledgeable in technology and helped IT helpdesk install Eduroam routers over the break.
In general, Jacob expressed very positive views; he told me that Eduroam wifi is a great idea as it eliminates the need for new (international) students to get a private router as they would already have pre-installed wifi in their new room. And secondly, having one centralized network is a lot better in terms of technology as it causes less interference, “(previously) IT desks had had a lot of problems where the Wi-Fi would go down…and that apparently was because people were using their own routers and weren’t using them properly”. By having the routers pre-installed by professionals, “that will hopefully eliminate a lot of these instances where the internet goes down because someone is using their router wrong…”.
He further mentioned that in theory the current problems- unstable connections and unconventional type of security where it does not work on some devices- should be solved by providing the students with Villex wifi which is the solution proposed by the IT helpdesk. However, he acknowledged that actually getting people to access to this additional wifi has been a tough and bumpy journey.
Regarding the IT helpdesk, he acknowledged their poor response rate and greatly related to the complaints of many students. I probed him further by asking him about his views on IT helpdesk given his experience. He was very careful to make any definitive comments but he remarked that he had the impression that “(t)he systems that they are working by are not very well designed…they are struggling to work as a team”, which could explain why it has been so difficult to reach them.
One other complaint that I heard from people at Roggeveenhof was that Eduroam routers made chirping noises. N.E from Roggeveenhof has her router right next to her bed and this noise has been keeping her up late at night. Knowing that Jacob also lives at Roggeveenhof, I brought this point up to see if he could explain this problem. He told me that Eduroam routers are not really designed for the specific models designed for home use but rather for institutions and offices where you do not sleep.
Overall, Jacob related to the frustration of many students at UCR who are having problems with this new wifi. However, he explained:
“It largely comes down to the fact that it’s just a new system. You know, any change will have problems in the beginning and we are very much still in the beginning phase, so there are still going to be problems…hopefully this problem will get eliminated as people at the IT helpdesk get more experienced with it.”
While acknowledging that our immediate experience with Eduroam is negative, he thoughtfully remarked that it is an “investment for the future.”
From the testimonies of my interviewees, it is evident that this new wifi has been hindering student’s learning experience through its slow and unstable connections. It has resulted in numerous instances where people just get cut out of classes or are unable to follow online exams. In many cases, this new wifi has proven worse than their old wifi.
However, I do see the potential of Eduroam benefiting everyone. A lot of people have told me that one good thing about Eduroam, despite its many flaws, is that now they have wifi everywhere. So if we could get Eduroam wifi working properly, this would result in improving everyone’s experience with this new wifi. Furthermore, as highlighted by Jacob, it is a great idea to provide everyone with pre-installed wifi. For new international students, this would mean that they no longer have to worry about procuring a private router as they would immediately have well-functioning wifi the moment they move into their designated campus. Also, during the prolonged pandemic where online classes are absolutely inevitable, it is a timely decision for UCR to take responsibility to provide the students with the internet.
However, while the idea might be great, the initial problems inherent in this new wifi still remain even though more than three months have passed since its installation. For this great idea to materialize, I strongly believe that UCR IT helpdesk should really take the initiative to actively address the current problems many students are facing and effectively respond to their queries in a timely manner.
Great thanks to all the five anonymous interviewees and Jacob Scharmberg for sharing their experiences and making this article possible.
Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/gp8BLyaTaA0