Why Twitter Isn’t the Place to Pinpoint Connectivity Issues

User feedback can be a great way for networking professionals to discover a connectivity problem, but in order to pinpoint the source of the problem, they need something more.

Due to their high user density, outsized share of active millennial users, and complex landscaping and architectural features, colleges and universities are some of the most difficult places to construct an effective, reliable wireless network. As a result, more than one in five students on American campuses rate their school’s WiFi coverage as either “fair” or “poor.”

Despite this substantial group of dissatisfied students, many campus IT teams go underutilized. According to a SurveyMonkey Audience survey, 22% of students say they never call the IT help desk on their campus, and a further 69% only solicit help from campus IT “rarely” or “occasionally.”

This doesn’t mean that students are keeping their frustrations to themselves, however. As reported by Campus Technology, students at institutions like the University of Georgia and Arizona State University are increasingly airing their complaints about campus WiFi connectivity on social media platforms like Twitter.

Meeting Students Halfway

To accommodate better students in the digital age, these institutions have made efforts to be available to students online, with mixed results. The University of Georgia’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) team responds to student tweets with an apology and its contact information, but it’s not unusual for the conversation to end there.

“[Students] don’t want to call somebody,” admits EITS Senior Public Relations Coordinator Kerri Testement, “especially if they’re mean-tweeting at two in the morning and our help desk is closed at that time.”

But as Director of Arizona State’s IT help center Eric Dover points out, maintaining a presence on platforms like Twitter is helpful even when students don’t engage with his team directly. “We’ve become the canary in the coalmine to some degree with this system,” Dover explains. “We expect to see two, three, four complaints a day with a university of this size. But when we start to see five or six an hour and it starts to pick up, then we look for issues developing.”

The Limits of User Feedback

Dover’s comments get to the heart of the issue quite nicely. While IT teams can track user feedback in order to get a feel for how their networks are performing “on the ground,” doing so doesn’t always help them pinpoint the source of connectivity issues. User feedback lets networking professionals know that a problem exists, but it does little to diagnose what the problem is — a proverbial canary in the coalmine, as Dover puts it.

Especially in places like colleges and universities where user behavior and bandwidth demands are constantly changing, it can be difficult to understand the source of network issues based on complaints alone. For instance, an institution’s network might experience unusually heavy traffic at one location on campus after a particularly popular class during one semester, but then suddenly see that traffic disappear or move to an entirely different location once the semester ends. This fluctuating, intermittent level of service demand can easily cause IT administrators to erroneously blame connectivity problems on something like structural interference or a rogue access point.

As such, IT teams everywhere hoping to both accurately diagnose ongoing connectivity issues and prevent connectivity issues down the line can’t rely on user feedback alone. Only with a comprehensive wireless site survey and network assessment can IT professionals rest assured that they truly understand the state of their network infrastructure.

The Power of Professional Network Troubleshooting

A wireless site survey involves the use of various high-tech software tools that assess the strength of signals sent through the air, the number and type of access points on the network, total airtime utilization, and much more. An experienced site surveyor will walk every square foot of a building or campus and test a network’s signals, listening for interference issues and monitoring connection speeds.

Whereas a site survey diagnoses issues related to wireless connectivity, a network assessment spans the breadth of an organization’s physical infrastructure, including data closets, equipment, and cables. An effective network assessment will uncover potential bottlenecks at critical points in a network’s infrastructure, like the switchport or the firewall. Ultimately, a network assessment takes a holistic approach to network evaluation, enabling administrators to identify and understand specific points of failure in their proper context.

At Turn-key Technologies, we have over two decades of experience conducting site surveys and network assessments for organizations from a wide variety of industries. Our industry-leading team has numerous manufacturer-specific and agnostic certifications, and we have the resources and expertise necessary to resolve network issues regardless of the circumstances.

By Craig Badrick

November 15, 2017

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