I’m talking about computers, not people, and especially about getting wifi on those computers. Like lots of large places built in a pre-networked era, our building presents special challenges for our poor network staff. IT has worked long and hard configuring and reconfiguring, and yet we keep having trouble getting reliable connectivity. And now I know way more about wifi connectivity than I ever expected to.
So in case your library is having a similar experience, here are the three factors that seem to be/have been causing our dropped connections.
First, networks were not invented with the idea that a single person is likely to have at least two devices pinging the network all the time — a phone plus the laptop, plus maybe a tablet or an ipod or who knows what other wifi-enabled device. IT here added a bunch of capacity for this and so it seems no longer to be an issue for us. Thank goodness.
Second, unless you get dual-band radios for your signal, the radio has to go with the lowest common denominator for signal type: a, b, or g. So if one person with an older laptop comes in needing an “a” signal, the whole area bumps down to “a” signal. So our IT department got us lovely new radios so everyone could be happier in the same space. Thank goodness.
Third, and this is the kicker, it turns out that there’s a sticky client issue built into the very foundation of networking. The way it was explained to me is that back in the day when they were first inventing wifi, they couldn’t conceive of people moving around while also needing wifi. They could only conceive of local networks among stationary computing stations. Flash forward to today, and you have computers who basically mate with their favorite wifi radio and will desperately hang onto that signal however weak and far away, meanwhile completely ignoring the beautiful strong signal of a nearer radio. There’s even a whole paper about it and how people are trying to solve it. So our IT department is working on this fix in hopes that it will make everything work a lot more smoothly.
Oh, and if you’re on a Mac, you’re a particularly sticky client. Also the little wifi signal strength indicator could be interfering with your actual signal (headdesk) so I’ve disabled mine. Kind of a pain, but I drop signal a whole lot less frequently.