Students are advised to understand and know which service provider is strongest in their area and to obtain a SIM card from the provider with the strongest connection in their area. 

Wits University has continued the rollout of data to students in the second block, and the ICT department is keen to allay concerns raised by students over the accessibility of the data in the first block. 

Slow connection and working through Cisco AnyConnect VPNwhich allows students to use the university-provided data on a prescribed set of URLs, were cited as the main problems.

Thato Lehutso, senior manager at Wits ICT, told Wits Vuvuzela that the VPN is necessary to ensure that the anytime data is used solely for learning purposes on prescribed sites which lecturers have deemed necessary for academic work, like Ulwazi and Big Blue Button. However, it does require a strong internet connection to function.

“What we have done as Wits ICT is we’ve looked at the four [mobile network operators] and tested their connectivity from different locations [including on campus] and from a Wits perspective it works optimally,” said Lehutso.

He also says Wits ICT relays reports of dead zones where students are unable to connect at speeds fast enough to use the VPN to the mobile network operators, whom they meet with on a monthly basis. 

“The VPN is to ensure that the 10GB of anytime data go towards academic sites…students may find themselves using all of that data in three days, where nothing from those three days was academically inclined,” Lehutso said. 

Installing the VPN and its connection were among the main challenges students faced with their usage of the data. Third-year BA student Khumo Maswanganyi told Wits Vuvuzela, “At first the data wasn’t working, and I was really confused. Then I read [how] we need to use the VPN and I’ve since been able to use it, but only on sites like Canvas and the Wits library.” 

BA film and television student Themba Dlamini said he preferred to use his residence’s WiFi  because, “The VPN restricts you from using apps like WhatsApp and things take longer to work.” 

According to Lehutso, the deterioration of network connectivity has been found to occur when large numbers of students are using the service at the same time. This is also dependent upon the quality of the student’s own connectivity from where they are connecting to the VPN. 

Lehutso further adds, “It’s important for students to understand and know which service provider in their area is the strongest.” This is so students can obtain SIM cards from the provider with the strongest connection in their area so they can effectively connect to the VPN and use the university-provided data.                       

Students can access the Wits Data Help page for how-to guides on how to install the VPN on their mobile devices and laptops, as well as for information on where to report problems they encounter.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The university has provided data to be used primarily on the learning platform, Canvas/Ulwazi. Photo: Zanolwazi Kunene