AirBears wireless network to be retired in favor of AirBears2

Related Posts

Update 3/18/15: This article has been updated to reflect new information from Anne Richard, regarding the status of the RESCOMP Wi-Fi network. 

UC Berkeley Information Services and Technology, or IST, will retire AirBears — the first wireless network deployed on campus — in order to complete the campus’ switch to the newer AirBears2.

AirBears2 offers the advantage of being encrypted, which prevents third parties from accessing information such as sites users have visited. According to Michael Green, telecommunications director at UC Berkeley, AirBears will be likely phased out sometime this calendar year, while other new networks such as eduroam and Cal Visitor will remain operational.

“IST is currently in the planning phase to end the basic, unencrypted wireless access to campus networks provided by AirBears and move to providing the campus community with Wi-Fi services that are encrypted, enhance confidentiality and mitigate risk,” Green said in an email.

When asked whether he supported the retirement of AirBears, Green said he had “mixed feelings.” He noted that the original AirBears system is able to work on any device because it is not encrypted, but added that not all users pay attention to whether their connection is encrypted.

In addition to inherently being more secure, AirBears2 provides an automatic connection similar to home Wi-Fi that makes it more convenient to use than its predecessor. According to Green, AirBears2 is also less expensive to operate than AirBears, which requires servers to authorize each individual Internet session.

“It’s not an overwhelming difference, but small costs add up when you are talking about systems that support the whole campus,” Green said. “Where we can offer reasonable service and cut costs, we should do that.”

According to Anne Marie Richard, director of student technologies at Residential Computing, there are also plans to retire RESCOMP, the Wi-Fi network available in the residence halls and connected facilities, because AirBears2 is “highly preferable for students.” RESCOMP is not operated by the IST, but Residential Computing is planning to phase out the older network concurrently with IST.

AirBears has existed in some form for about 15 years, according to Isaac Orr, the manager of network operations and services for IST.

“Some of the supporting infrastructure for AirBears is aging,” Orr said in an email. “At some point work will need to be done to modernize or replace this infrastructure, so we have a choice whether to spend our time and money doing this or not.”

AirBears2 is already the most used network on campus by far, with an average of about 16,000 people connected to it at any given time, according to Orr. AirBears is still the second most popular service with 6,500 average users, while the two networks together account for more than two-thirds of the total Internet traffic on campus.

Benjamin Gold, the communications manager for the chief information officer of IST, said he finds AirBears2 to be “a better user experience” than AirBears, but he recognized that switching to the newer system will take time.

“We’re still in the planning phase of figuring out when we’re going to ask the campus community to move from using Airbears to Airbears2,” Gold said. “We want to make sure that there is enough time to communicate and coordinate with the rest of the campus to make sure that it’s a smooth transition.”

Contact Logan Goldberg at [email protected].