Saturday, October 22, 2005

SJSU wireless: Late and out of date?

The new campus-wide wireless network being put in for SJSU has already missed two deadlines and is will soon be a full semester behind schedule. It was supposed to be live before the start of the Fall term in August. After that failed, a new date of October 17 was set and missed for startup of the new wireless network. Now they are saying the network will be turned on sometime after school ends in December. Reportedly the issue is lack of stability of the network which is funded primarily by student money, provided by Associated Students. The network is being installed and will be run by Comcast. Comcast is the contractor for this project. It is replacing a reliable, smaller scale project run by SJSU employees.

Even if the new network can be made to work, and roll-out finally does happen sometime around Christmas, the next big question is, will it already be obsolete?

The new network will rely on a somewhat complicated user authentication method. Everybody who goes to use the network will have to have a user log-in. This log-in will be based on a system (never tested on such a scale) called SJSUOne. All users of the new network have to have an SJSUOne account, or be a paid Comcast wireless customer. SJSUOne, in turn, is based on the PeopleSoft HR and Student database.

All users of the new network will need to activate their SJSUOne accounts and then use the password they create to authenticate to the wireless network. This is not an option for people are not either university employees or students. Many folks come to the university, like guest speakers to classes and/or vendors, who are not in the PeopleSoft database but have real business to conduct at SJSU that may need Internet access. It is still not clear how these folks will be accommodated.

SJSUOne itself has had major problems. Useability of the system's account activation interface has been a major fail point with over 50% of the folks who tried to use the current version to activate their SJSUOne accounts not being able to work through the interface (based on testing.) There is a new interface being planned for SJSUOne account activation, but the folks slated to test its useability have not yet been able to. Even when they do, they are not usability experts. Usability is a science not best left to amateurs.

A huge amount of money is being spent supporting and designing this user authentication method. But, is it even necessary?

In metropolitan areas, like San Francisco, companies are falling all over themselves to provide free and open wireless access. Companies like our very own local company Google, who make their living off people having as easy access as possible to the Internet, are installing wireless networks that are free and open to any user who wants to use them.

Couldn't all the money we are spending keeping folks from using our network be better spent improving it? You can't say we need to have user authentication for the sake of university security. All users of the wireless network are going to be treated as outside users anyway and will have an additional layer of security to go through to reach university network resources. They will already be outside the university firewall, like all other Internet users from off campus.

I do not understand why we don't just make the new wireless network free and open to the public. In my opinion the SJSUOne authentication method will complicate and hinder easy use of the wireless network. Other new wireless networks are open, why not ours? Free open and accessible networks encourage collaboration and are the current state of the art. Our new network, in my opinion, will not be. So in my opinion is it not only late, it is out of date!


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