In the last few weeks, as U-M faculty and students returned to campus with laptops, smartphones, tablets and other electronic gear, the demand on the MWireless network has continued to soar.

The number of devices connecting to MWireless has more than doubled in the past year.

In 2013, a Campus Wi-Fi Upgrade project was approved as a key initiative, with the provost approving major capital investments for Wi-Fi upgrades to public-facing U-M facilities. Further improvements to the Wi-Fi network in additional buildings on campus have been proposed and are in the approval process.

“Staying on top of the ever increasing demand for Wi-Fi connectivity is an ongoing priority,” said Andy Palms, executive director of ITS Communication Systems and Data Centers.

“Ensuring our Wi-Fi service can scale to the demand of our faculty, staff, students and visitors is critical to the university’s ability to further its mission. The U-M community expects Wi-Fi connectivity anytime, anywhere.”

U-M is not alone in the race to keep up with the demand for higher capacity Wi-Fi networks. According to the Educause IT Issues Panel, the demand on campus Wi-Fi networks is the No. 1 IT challenge facing higher education.

Students have made their voices heard about how important they believe Wi-Fi connectivity is to their educational experience at U-M. According to PC Magazine, students rate the need for Wi-Fi alongside their need for food and water, with 90 percent saying it is essential to their educational success.

Faculty and staff at U-M agree, said Dan Maletta, interim executive director of Information Technology at the College of Engineering.

“The upgraded Wi-Fi across campus will allow for the use of new tools in education and provide the ability for students to be active participants in the classroom in a manner not possible prior to the upgrade,” Maletta said.

In an effort to meet these expectations, high-traffic public buildings on the Ann Arbor campus were targeted for upgrades first. Over the past year major upgrades occurred on Wi-Fi networks at Palmer Commons, Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, Shapiro Undergraduate Library and the Hatcher Graduate Library.

Upgrades at the Michigan Union, Student Activities Building and Pierpont Commons are expected to complete in the next month.

These buildings are often the first that people encounter on campus and are some of the most frequently visited buildings at U-M. Faculty, staff, students and visitors should soon have a much better Wi-Fi experience in these university hubs.

After a rigorous request-for-proposal process, a network hardware vendor was selected for the project.

“By combining the needs of the campus, the university was able to significantly reduce the cost of hardware needed to build and maintain the MWireless network,” Palms said. “Historically, this had been done unit by unit. The pricing negotiated through this process is also available to the rest of the University of Michigan community, including the U-M Health System, UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint campuses.”