Wi-Fi Connectivity: Parliament Buildings

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland Assembly Commission – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP 3:00 pm, 23rd March 2021

5. Mr Stewart asked the Assembly Commission for its assessment of Wi-Fi connectivity in Parliament Buildings. (AQO 1823/17-22)

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Member for his question. The current Wi-Fi network was installed in Parliament Buildings in 2013 and originally consisted of 84 wireless access points located throughout the Building. As the current system supported a maximum of 100 access points, an additional 16 were purchased and installed in 2015 in order to improve the overall Wi-Fi signal coverage for Building users.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significantly increased demand for Wi-Fi services by Members and staff, and there were some Wi-Fi connectivity and signal quality issues for some Members, particularly in regard to videoconferencing. Much of that is due to the nature of the construction of Parliament Buildings, which presents a number of challenges to providing universal Wi-Fi coverage in all areas.

In response to that, webcams were provided for use by MLAs and party support staff. The webcams have been deployed on desktop PCs in Parliament Buildings, and, as those use the Assembly wired network, they provide a much more reliable service. The current Wi-Fi network shares the Assembly’s main internet connection, which is monitored on an ongoing basis, and that is currently operating well within the capacity of the connection. The IS Office also recently reissued the written advice to Members on how best to manage Wi-Fi connections on mobile devices.

Should Members experience any difficulty with Wi-Fi access or performance in Parliament Buildings, they should, of course, contact the IS Office service desk, ideally at the time when the difficulty is experienced, so that the matter can be investigated. The IS Office will continue to monitor the current Wi-Fi service in Parliament Buildings and will respond appropriately to any specific issues as they arise. As the current system is not fully meeting the Assembly's needs and is approaching end of life, the IS Office intends to undertake a review of the system and to set up a project to replace the Wi-Fi network infrastructure before the end of the current Assembly mandate.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

I thank the Commission member for that very thorough response. I do not think that I am the only person in the House who, from time to time, feels like banging their head against a brick wall when it comes to accessing either the Wi-Fi network or the hard-wired network. I have just come from two Zoom meetings, both through the PC in the office, where I had to turn off the camera. That was probably a good thing for those at the other end of the line, but it was not so practical for the actual running of the meetings. It seems that, given the ongoing number of meetings that are taking place, we will need more and more access. Is there any way that we can look at speeding up that connection so that we can get more for the ongoing number of meetings that we are having?

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Member for his further question. I think that all of us have experienced problems with slow connections, be it with meetings from the Building or when trying to connect virtually. Wi-Fi speeds can be affected by many different factors, including physical obstructions, proximity to the nearest Wi-Fi access point and the number of devices that are currently connected. On Assembly sitting days, some access points, particularly those around the Chamber, for example, are being required to service a large number of devices, and that can cause the delays in connections that have been referred to. As I advised, due to the nature of its construction, Parliament Buildings presents some challenges to providing universal Wi-Fi coverage in all areas, however the IS Office will continue to monitor the service daily and will respond to requests for support as they arise.