‘Scrambling to get Wi-Fi:’ UC Berkeley suffers Wi-Fi connectivity difficulties

photo of a laptop with the wifi drop down menu
Matthew Gibson/Senior Staff
After an undetected system issue via system updates, campus's Wi-Fi connectivity issues serve as a barrier for students' academic rhythm and performance.

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For UC Berkeley junior Monet Siroosian, the first few weeks of the fall semester have been riddled with a lack of reliable Wi-Fi connection, an inability to fill out in-class attendance forms and even difficulties taking a quiz.

Siroosian is one of many campus community members who have struggled to connect to any of campus’s three Wi-Fi networks — Eduroam, AirBears2 and CalVisitor — since the semester began.

“It’s been a while, so I’m pretty shocked they haven’t fixed it,” Siroosian said. “We have some of the best technology minds at our campus, so it’s a bit weird.”

Dave Browne, executive director of UC Berkeley’s campus information technology, or IT, infrastructure, said the department first became aware of the “significant issues” in connecting to the campus Wi-Fi networks on Aug. 30. These difficulties persisted irregularly until Wednesday morning, especially between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The struggles with connectivity were caused by a system issue introduced via system updates and previously went undetected due to the low Wi-Fi traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Browne.

“The issues with devices losing connection and/or unable to connect were amplified during peak hours in the late morning and afternoon when we typically reach our highest number of users accessing Wi-Fi at the same time,” Browne said in an email.

A number of buildings and classrooms across campus suffered from unreliable, poor or unavailable Wi-Fi connections, with Dwinelle Hall, Valley Life Science Building, Doe Memorial Library and Evans Hall among those experiencing the worst impact, Browne added.

During Public Policy 101 lectures, which Siroosian attends in Evans Hall, everyone, including the professor, will be “scrambling to get Wi-Fi” for the first 20 to 30 minutes, she said. The lack of reliable connectivity has resulted in students unable to take notes on Google Docs or even fill out the online attendance form, she added.

Similarly, campus freshman Stephanie Kim said the lack of Wi-Fi connectivity in the Valley Life Sciences Building, where she has three of her classes, has been “especially bad.” So far, she has been unable to access the Canvas app within the building, which she uses for all her classes.

Both Siroosian and Kim expressed their frustration regarding the difficulties in Wi-Fi connectivity.

Siroosian recalled a “pretty inconvenient” incident where she was unable to connect to the Wi-Fi in Moffitt Library to take a quiz and was forced to return home.

She has attempted to circumvent the Wi-Fi outages she has experienced in Moffitt and Doe Memorial Library by using CalVisitor or her own personal hotspot to attend Zoom meetings, complete assignments and watch recorded lectures, she added.

Kim has been unable to watch her math professor’s prerecorded lectures and has been forced to read annotated notes for the class instead, which she said makes her feel as if she has not fully understood the material.

The Wi-Fi issues extend even to the dorms, where Kim said she was unable to use her laptop or tablet to complete the work she had left. As the Wi-Fi took several hours to return, Kim was forced to stay up late to finish her assignments and readings.

“The wifi difficulties have heightened my stress lately because of how unpredictable it is,” Kim said in an email. “It is a little bit relieving to know that I’m not the only one experiencing these difficulties, but the wifi issues have significantly slowed down my peers’ and my everyday tasks.”

Mitigations put in place by the department have boosted campus’s Wi-Fi network performance and should be able to maintain the network’s stability until a permanent software fix is deployed, Browne explained.

Browne added that the department is working to resolve the system issue while attempting to minimize disruption to campus. They will continue to closely monitor the state of the Wi-Fi network.

“I recognize that the Wi-Fi outage greatly impacted instruction last week,” said Jenn Stringer, associate vice chancellor for information technology, in an email. “We have stabilized the network and are waiting for the final fix from our vendor.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.