Sun Cities rec centers climbing tech ladder

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

With the ever increasing march of digital technology, recreation centers officials in the Sun Cities are working to keep pace as younger generations, more in tune with the wireless world, begin to move in.

Chris Herring

Recreation facilities in both Sun City and Sun City West are equipped with WiFi systems to allow residents and visitors to use their various wireless devices — such as tablets, phones, laptops and new items preparing to come on the market. While these systems served them well in the beginning, the advancement of time and technology is creating a need for upgrades.

In Sun City, the Long Range Planning Committee developed a detailed plan for RCSC officials to consider when planning for future needs. The panel recognized that while the greatest generation and baby boomers comprised the vast majority of residents since Sun City began in 1960, those in generation X and millennials are beginning to purchase homes in Sun City. As these generations are more digitally inclined than those before them, the committee believes RCSC officials need to upgrade wireless capabilities.

Numerous complaints about the unreliability of the RCSC WiFi were expressed during multiple board meetings this year. RCSC staff instructed Chris Herring, RCSC assistant general manager, to develop a plan of improvement.

“WiFi use has expanded and outgrown our existing system,” he reported to the board during its June 27 meeting. “We have heard about poor coverage, inconsistent speeds and a poor network.”

He said there was no need to replace the existing system as it can be expanded. His plan calls for expanding the network by adding access points in areas where distance causes performance issues. Access points would also be added in areas where devices are rarely used now but projected to be in the future. Mr. Herring’s plan also calls for added high capacity access points in areas if high attendance.

“We would also have a bandwidth increase at all locations,” he said.

RCSC’s WiFi now operates on a 10 megabit download and two MB upload speeds. Mr. Herring’s plan would have those increased to 100/20.

“The golf courses would remain at 10/2 because we’re not seeing much use there,” Mr. Herring said.

Access points would be added in each club space with a secure connection for devices within the space.

Mr. Herring said the improvements would cost about $26,375 for hardware, $1,557 per month for internet service and $400 per month for access point service.

“That would put us just short of $50,000 for this expansion in the first year,” Mr. Herring said.

He suggested the board include the cost in the 2020 budget with the plan to be completed that year.

Bill Pearson

Bill Pearson, an advocate of improving RCSC’s WiFi, believes the plan is good, but is too slow. He cited the fall crafts fair at Sundial Recreation Center, 14801 N. 103rd Ave., where some vendors experienced WiFi problems last year, and the new show ticketing plan that calls for online sales.

“Will this plan be in place in time to deal with those issues this year?” he asked.

Mr. Pearson also believes RCSC officials should establish an Information Technology Committee to help officials find the best solutions.

“Higher capacity alone will not fix the problem,” he said. “It is more like a band aid on a broken arm.”

Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials also see the need to upgrade their WiFi system.

RCSCW’s public WiFi works on five megabit download and two MB upload speeds while the association’s internal system is 100/20, according to Katy O’Grady, RCSCW general services officer.

“When we first installed it, we had to figure out how close to locate the nodes so people had continuity,” she stated in an email. “Some rec centers are built more like a fortress with thick walls, and required more nodes than those centers that have a more open plan.”

RCSCW officials’ challenge was not with the download speed, but with the number of nodes, she explained. That issue was solved quite a while ago and there have been few issues since, she added.

Katy O’Grady

Despite that, RCSCW officials are upgrading all public WiFi access points to newer hardware as the existing devices are at end of life, according to Ms. O’Grady.

“That said, even the old devices provide a very stable network, and in fact the public WiFi is extremely well used,” she stated. “Every year we see more hits to our websites coming from mobile devices, often tablets connected to our WiFi. Installation of the new APs will be complete in a couple months.”

Of those accessing RCSCW’s WiFi, 44% access the website on laptops, 37% on mobile devices and 19% on tablets, according to Ms. O’Grady.The RCSCW system was not without its complaints.

“The one group who did have concerns with the throttled 5/2 speed on the public WiFi are the clubs, who have been asking for more bandwidth as the public WiFi did not allow them to do all the things they were trying to do with it (updating mutiple computers at once, doing training with streaming videos, etc),” Ms. O’Grady stated.

To address that, RCSCW officials are installing 50/10 network at all four recreation centers, exclusively for the clubs, with hardlines to each club room.

“Each club’s line is isolated from the other clubs for security reasons,” Ms. O’Grady stated.

The club network enhancements will cost about $13,000 and the access point replacement will cost about $9,000, according to Ms. O’Grady.

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