ict’ers van het Groninger Forum
Case study

Best practice: SURFwireless takes over management of existing wifi network Groninger Forum

Groninger Forum moves to a new building. SURF will install and manage the Wi-Fi network, using the SURFwireless service. But will SURFwireless also be able to work with an existing wifi network? Groninger Forum and SURF have launched a successful pilot project to achieve optimum peace of mind with regard to wifi services.

We spoke to Richard de Vries, project manager ict at the Groninger Forum, and Eelco de Vos, service manager of SURFwireless.

Right in the centre of Groningen, behind the Grote Markt, a mastodon is rising: the new building of the Groninger Forum. SURF will provide the Wi-Fi facilities for it, with the SURFwireless service. In itself, this is a spectacular and challenging job (see box), but another aspect is really new: SURF will also manage the existing wifi network of the Groninger Forum. The aim is to relieve Groninger Forum of worries about wifi in the current building and to guarantee a flawless migration to SURFwireless in the new building.

Outsourcing wifi network management

Richard de Vries: "When I came here a few years ago, the wifi network was not doing too well. There were many complaints about the availability and performance of the wifi. And because I was the only ict person at Groninger Forum at the time, I wanted to change that. For example, I was keen to outsource the management. Soon I got in touch with Eelco de Vos about our new building and we decided to choose SURFwireless for that. Then I asked the question: couldn't you also do the management of our current wifi network with SURFwireless? That would save me a lot of work and benefit quality."

Eelco de Vos: "We thought that was an interesting question. And a challenge, because taking over the management of an existing network is no easy task. That's why we're glad we were able to do this pilot together with Groninger Forum." What is so challenging about taking over an existing wifi network? De Vos: "The easiest way is to implement a wifi environment from scratch. You can then set it up however you want. You decide the architecture, the position of the access points, and so on. Integrating the hardware with the management portal is also easy, of course, because we build that ourselves. So the challenge now is to connect an existing environment as well as possible to the high-quality SURFwireless experience we want to offer the customer. So with high-quality Wi-Fi for the user, and good monitoring and management capabilities."

Skyline van Groningen met Forum en Martinitoren

Measuring and improving

How did the pilot work? De Vos continues: "We first mapped out Groninger Forum's Wi-Fi environment technically. How is the configuration, what equipment is there, where do the access points hang, and so on. Then we carried out a physical measurement to see how things stood with the capacity and quality of the Wi-Fi, throughout the building. Based on that measurement, we made an improvement plan to ensure that the wifi network would meet SURFwireless's quality requirements as much as possible. For instance, we had to adjust some access points better and we installed extra access points in three places. There was really not enough wifi capacity there. We configured the new environment in the management environment and in 2 days we then carried out the physical work on site: hanging new access points and providing all access points with the new configuration."

"Can you also take over the management of our current Wi-Fi network?"

No more complaints

And, how does it work in practice? Richard de Vries: "The litmus test came when a new student term started. Then there are always a lot of students visiting Groninger Forum, a good test for the wifi. It used to rain complaints then: the wifi doesn't work, the wifi is too slow, and so on. And now: it stayed quiet, no more complaints. For me, that is a very clear sign that I have got a more stable wifi environment."

But the project is not quite finished yet. Eelco de Vos: "We are now going to implement several more improvements that should make the transition to the New Groninger Forum easier. For instance, we are going to reduce the number of SSIDs (network names) from four to one or two. And perhaps more importantly, we are going to set up a facility that will allow Groninger Forum to hand out guest accounts for the wifi network to visitors, such as school students, library visitors but also day visitors (the VVV will also be in the Groninger Forum). When we have completed that, the pilot will really be successful."

Earthquake-resistant new building: challenge for SURFwireless team

Groninger Forum organises film screenings, courses, children's activities and festivals at various locations in the city. It also provides space for libraries and student workplaces. By the end of 2019, Groninger Forum will move into the new building. Groninger Forum will then become a low-threshold meeting place where all these (and more) facilities come together.

SURF provides the WiFi service for Groninger Forum with SURFwireless. This is by no means a standard project for the SURFwireless team:

  • The new building is earthquake-proof. That means, among other things, that the walls and ceilings are extra thick, and that a lot of separation glass is used. Things that are bad for the transmission of Wi-Fi signals.
  • Measuring the building had to be done during construction. After all, at some point they plaster all the ceilings, before which they have to install the cables and connection points for access points. As a result, the layout was also missing during the measurements. That made it quite a challenge to estimate the final situation as accurately as possible.

This article is relevant to