Okanagan College looking for WiFi partner

Deficiencies in the school’s WiFi service were highlighted in results from a recent student engagement survey.

Providing quality, uniform wireless Internet service at four campuses and other satellite sites has proven difficult for Okanagan College, which is looking for a partner to help address the issue.

Besides the fact it operates over a large geographical area, the college’s buildings also present challenges for WiFi, according to director of information technology Laura Eagen.

“It’s hundreds of little, concrete rooms, basically, so it is a difficult environment,” she said.

The college earlier this month issued a request for expressions of interest from groups that might be able to tackle the problem at minimal cost to the institution.

Eagen said deficiencies in the school’s WiFi service, such as holes in its coverage areas and a requirement to log in and out when changing locations, were highlighted in results from a recent student engagement survey.

The system already in place, she added, has been tweaked, but “it really wasn’t designed for teaching and learning, or to meet the demands of multiple devices and expectations around levels of service.”

What she envisions is a service similar to Shaw Go WiFi, which gives Shaw customers free Internet service in thousands of public areas, including much of downtown Penticton, after logging in once.

Eagen stressed, however, that Okanagan College isn’t looking to give one company a monopoly or free access to its staff and students’ eyeballs.

“We certainly aren’t in a situation where we want anybody going out advertising to students or anything like that, but if there was some kind of complementary service that we could get into from an investment perspective, we’d be interested in having that discussion,” she said.

There isn’t a lot of money available for the project, however.

In March 2014, the college’s board of governors approved tuition fee increases and staff layoffs to close a $3.2-million budget gap, so Eagen said if WiFi improvements can’t be done cheaply, they’ll instead be done slowly.

“If it comes down to not having available budget and not being able to find anyone to kind of partner with us, we’ll just make incremental change and keep hacking away at it,” she said.