Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

Summary: An angry open letter to three major US universities who banned or blocked student iPad users from accessing their wireless networks,


Dear Cornell, George Washington and Princeton,

You're idiots. I toyed with this first line for a good twenty minutes before sticking to my guns and calling you as such. As the resident student blogger, you should have known that this would have ruffled my feathers, to the point it's taken me an entire day to muster up enough raw emotion to write this letter.

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that your student iPad users are essentially being banned from accessing your institution's network citing 'network stability issues' and 'bandwidth overload'. Though I can see the logic behind this, especially in light with the iPad wireless networking issues that were reported just after launch, I sincerely believe that the problems lie with you.

George Washington University students cannot even access the wireless network you have in place because either your network doesn't support the wireless security protocols or the iPad doesn't. If every other device can access the network securely, what makes the iPad so different? Authentication should not be discriminatory based on brand, product or operating system.

Princeton have actively blocked iPad users from accessing the network due to "high risk problems". I can understand this one to some extent because the DHCP system couldn't cope with a flaw with the iPad's IP configuration software. This is granted. Apple does indeed have some issues with this and Princeton has to "maintain the stability and reliability of campus network services". Then again, only 20% of these iPad users have had their network access blocked, suggesting that not all iPad's have this flaw or perhaps a wider back-end infrastructure issue not playing ball.

Steve Shuster, Cornell's IT director, told the Wall Street Journal that the iPhone caused bandwidth issues when it first came on the scene. Like what, using some form of device which allows students to access the web, media, social networking sites and YouTube? So what makes it so different from say, a Windows machine which allows you to install torrent software to illegally download files which is far more detrimental in the long run?

Frankly, if you use your iPhone or iPad to access your email, Facebook or student data system through the wireless network instead of an ordinary laptop, wouldn't this balance out the network load to some extent? I'm sure Apple products don't inherently churn up unnecessary amounts of wireless bandwidth just to deliberately play havoc with the networks. (If so, nice evil plan there, Apple).

I will admit, I am not the greatest fan of Apple products and frankly they grate at me for being 'high class' and socially snobbish. Nevertheless, students will buy the iPad - going against my personal advice - and will want to use it on campus.

But your three universities - and you won't be the only ones out there - have probably caused these issues yourselves. Your three universities are part of the best educational institutions in the world yet did nobody flag up the potential issues faced by a new technology on the market? Surely somebody on your campus would have put in a word to the IT departments and mentioned this potential uprising of iPad using students?

Take Seton Hill University, a fine example. Whether you see it as a bribe or an offer of a lifetime semester, either way new students will be getting a brand new shiny iPad. Their network infrastructure clearly works well enough to bring on thousands of these devices for their new students. Yet on the flip side since first writing about it, students will be faced with an additional $500 per semester "technology fee" to pay for expansions in bandwidth capabilities.

Yes, I am aware that the global financial crisis has caused many universities and educational institutions into a difficult situation. Some universities are close to collapse and are struggling to pay their own staff let alone consider adopting faster, more efficient infrastructures to keep in line with trending technologies. Yet these are rare instances and the product return to student tuition fee ratio is way off in most cases.

I implore you to look at the services you are providing, not to mention the negative press attention you are getting by actioning these decisions, and re-evaluate your respective positions to ensure that you are giving the student - the consumer, at the end of the day - the best value for their money.

Much love, (it's nothing personal, I promise),

Zack x

Topics: iPad, Apple, iPhone, Mobility, Networking

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  • Logic?

    What a waste of a post. Sure let's just allow a device that wrecks havoc on your DHCP pool and doesn't release said IP and renew like any other device.

    Tell Apple to fix their device. I swear does anyone even work or understand infrastructure? Do you think it's all magic and unlimited?

    Bravo to said Universities for taking a stand and not allowing shoddy devices (of any brand) onto their network.
    • You're both right

      Apple does have a problem they should look into.

      College networks are also a big problem. I posted this in another talkback, but my college network enjoys a walloping 100Mbps connection, supporting 100's of laptops and another 1,000 or so desktop PC's daily. It's that bad that it makes dial up look good in comparison. What's worse is the network fights with 1960's cinder block architecture, so your guess is as good as mine if you're even going to get a signal.

      And as more and more students apply, and bring their laptops in, the college unfortunately shows no signs of upgrading.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Still, the common thread here is the iPad

        different universities, different setups, different configs.

        Yet the iPad isn't working on many of them.

        Either the iPad is right and eveyone else is wrong, or the issue lies with the iPad.
        • Not quite correct

          The common thread is available bandwidth and infrastructure support
          for mobile devices.

          As Zack pointed out, I also recall the furor over the initial iPhone
          debut and how some infrastructures mistakenly believed the new
          iPhone was the culprit in certain situations. (Later, the first generation
          iPhone was exonerated of those initial accusations.)

          That is not to say that the current situation with the iPad?s IP
          configuration software flaw does not exist .. I personally believe its a
          genuine issue. However, its a software problem and should be easily
          corrected in the near future.

          The main points of Zack's blog pointed out that certain respected
          institutions of higher education are woefully unprepared for the
          coming emergence of these new mobile devices and have simply used
          the iPad as a convenient way to deflect a more thorough analysis of
          their current network infrastructure capability.
          • Blame Apple

            They don't share any technical details on their products until they release so if there is a configuration change one would need you have zero time to test it prior to general availability.

            I don't care how robust a network you have, if you have a few hundred iPads taking IP's and not releasing them your going to have issues.

            I'm guessing Apple doesn't have the best testing strategy in place for QA / DEV cases not to mention WiFi as this should've been quick to identify in your test cases.
          • Your points are well taken but then again

            consider the logic of this situation. There are at least 500,000 iPads
            in the wild and I would imagine that a small but not insignificant
            portion of that total are in the hands of university students.

            If the iPad's network software protocols were that disruptive than I
            would expect that more than three universities would have issued a
            ban on iPads. The observation that all the other universities across
            the nation have so far refused to follow the example of these three
            universities can not be ignored or the implication that this implies.

            Just in passing, Harvard doesn't seem to have a problem with iPads.
            But then again, I always have had a fondness for Harvard over
            Princeton .. its just a better university. Grin!
        • What's so special about university wireless

          My iPad works just fine on public hotspots that I visit. And so do others that I see. And it worked fine on the wireless network at UC Berkeley last weekend. So what's the big deal?

          OK. Read the Princeton article. Should have read it first. I guess others are not monitoring as closely as Princeton is.
  • A little outside your field Zach

    Technology is not magic and if the universities put this into place there is a reason.

    The fact that you can't really understand it, doesn't change things.
  • RE: Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

    Is the iPad a standard as laptop?
    Or it's responsibility of University to support new toys of student a.s.a.p when it may cause harm/ bad effect on performance of the whole system?
  • RE: Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

    A criminology student dabbles into IEEE 802.11
    standards and DHCP leasing issues VS smart IT people
    working at some of the world's most demanding
    networking environments -- campuses.

    And the criminologist thinks: the IT guys are idiots
    for pointing out a flaw in a newly introducted

    Trust me, Zach, you are the one who sounds like the
    name you call.

    I love Apple like crazy. I also love the iPad. I am
    definitely buying one. But you are way out of line,
    way too immature and if I'm not put off by the
    fluffiness and lack of substance in this article, I
    would be put off by your discourteousness.

    The biggest surprise is that you write for ZDNET. It
    used to be a reputable company.
  • What is it you think standards are for?

    Hint: they are NOT so that every device manufacturer can put out any piece of crap they want that doesn't play by the rules. When your iPad takes the IP address that is supposed to be assigned to my laptop, do you figure you are doing me a favor?

    Its a retarded attitude.
  • It's not just the US of A, but across the pond too

    All of you kids have a sense of entitlement these days.
    The world is doomed when the new generation begins to
    take positions of power...

    You haven't a clue as to what is involved in supporting
    an open network, let alone to maintain it. If you had a
    clue, you would have written an article that weighed both
    sides of the argument clearly and unbiased.
  • Cornell University iPads - no problems

    Hello Zack,

    You'll be pleased to hear that there are in fact no problems
    using iPads on the Cornell University campus. In the
    sixteen days since April 3, more than 68 iPads have
    registered with the university's secure wireless network and
    there are no reported problems. We welcome and look
    forward to more iPad users and sell the device at the
    campus book store. I imagine that the university's founder,
    Ezra Cornell, would have enjoyed using an iPad. He was a
    pioneer the development of the telegraph in the 1840's.
  • I won't buy an iPad, but hey, the shoes this other guy is selling...

    ... yeah. That's what *I* want.
    • The guy's name is conficker

      Have you heard of him?

      The conficker network is now the largest cloude provider in the worl and it is being leased to spam blogs, data mining, etc.

      I suspect it's doing some scientific computing also, the computing power of the conficker network is immense.
      Great Kahuna
  • RE: Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

    To the author of the article:

    Now your readers understand who the REAL idiot is - YOU! Stay in school another couple of years...maybe you will learn something!
  • Ask AT&T about Apple bandwidth

    It seems that AT&T might have a differing opinion about bandwidth gobbled up by Apple products.
    • Logical Fallacy...

      @pwatson... post hoc ergo propter hoc. The iPhone became a hit as a consumer owned smartphone. Prior to that smartphones were primarily used by business users, not so much of a hit in the consumer world. This is not the case at these colleges.

      Colleges typically need to have bandwidth for full access internet, capable of handling the bandwidth requirements to not only get to standard HTML pages, but also into flash based, and multi-media streaming protocols. The iPad for instance doesn't change these protocols, it simply uses them in the same fashion that a laptop would.

      ATT issues are that smartphones like the iPhone can deliver a full internet experience, (do not bounce on this, yes I know it doesn't support flash), or near full internet experience. Something that ATT probably wasn't prepared to handle. Not some defect of the device.

      Now that isn't to say that there isn't some specific bug in the iOS software that the iPad runs that causes this failure of IP address release. I can not comment to that. But if it is not simply having the bandwidth capacity, then these colleges will need to spend some capital on infrastructure and expand out their bandwidth capacities.
  • RE: Open letter: University iPad ban; Catch up, simple as

    There are a number of factors at work here Zach:

    1. Many university networks are not managed/owned by a
    single entity, instead favoring a federated model with
    distributed management and ownership. This means a
    President/Chancellor-type mandate would be required to
    synchronize an upgrade.

    2. Purchasing cycles at universities do not favor Apple-
    style, closed-lip releases of new products. At many schools,
    budgets for the following fiscal year (which usually starts
    July 1) are ratified in the previous fall and early spring. That
    means that in order to "have a network in place for Spring
    2010's iPad" means they would have had to plan the
    upgrade in Fall 2008. Apple wasn't exactly giving anyone

    3. Having managed a very large university network for
    nearly a decade, I can tell you that it is no surprise that
    admins do not want to:
    A. Support older, insecure authentication standards, namely
    B. Tolerate devices that flap their link up and down so they
    can save power on their WiFi connections.

    Apple makes consumer devices AND computers, so this
    kind of sloppy network programming is actually not
    surprising at all. We've come to expect more from them
    because OSX has such strong BSD roots, which grew up as a
    network stalwart. The iPhone OS certainly didn't.
    • WEP?

      iPad supports WPA/WPA2. No need to support (or allow) WEP.