2019: 20 Years of Student Wi-Fi



With more than 13 billion Wi-Fi devices in use today (according to the Wi-Fi Alliance), it’s almost impossible to comprehend that, back in 1999, many people dismissed Wi-Fi as no more than a ‘passing fad’. It was a curiosity with little or no relevance to everyday student life.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine a world without Wi-Fi - but people survived. Back in 1999, the internet looked very different. This was a world of dial-up, without YouTube, without social media, without Google - all of which meant that its capabilities were very basic. For most people, it was an inconvenience - using the internet blocked the landline so the telephone was out of action and loading even the simplest web pages took a long time. Many households couldn’t afford an expensive personal computer, which meant if someone wanted to use the internet, they had to go to an ‘internet cafe’ and pay by the hour to use the facilities.

So, when Wi-Fi was released for home use in 1999, things were set to change. But what was student life like without it?

One of the most important things about going to university is finding your place in the world - making new friends, finding your independence. Without the luxury of fast, reliable broadband, none of the software at our fingertips today was available - no Skype, no FaceTime. Instead, phone calls were made to friends and family at pre-arranged times - or news was exchanged by text or snail mail. Keeping in contact with new friends required a lot more effort - there was no social media and few had mobile phones, so again, plans were made and set in stone. Rather than liking posts or sharing gifs, people had to get together IRL (In Real Life) to connect.

That didn’t mean that there was no way of communicating with people via the internet. One of the key benefits of an internet account was the email account that came with it. Programmes such as MSN Messenger and ICQ ("I Seek You" bought by AOL in 1998) were a means of reaching out to people across the world in a way that had never been done before. If you’re not familiar with these programmes, basically they allowed you to connect with complete strangers online anywhere in the world and chat (obviously there was no video or audio) but they were a glimpse into the future of social media.

Most student accommodation nowadays seems to come equipped with all mod-cons like gyms, cinemas etc. Back in 1999 there was no such thing as internet streaming - what was on the screen was what you got (unless you had a satellite dish which wasn’t an option for student halls of residence). This meant watching your programmes at a specific time (if you could find a common room with a working TV). Kind of like going to a showing at the cinema on a smaller scale. Life was less complicated with fewer choices - no real arguing over the remote (especially since most channels shut down at night). Broadband only arrived in the UK with the millenium and it was years before average speeds exceeded 10Mbit/s for a home user. Only with wide-scale availability of decent broadband around 2005 did Wi-Fi become the everyday means of connecting devices that it is today. But then of course it was a laptop that students used, if they could afford one - smartphones and tablets didn’t arrive for another 5 years!

Studying is obviously also an important aspect of student life - but how was it affected by a lack of internet? Well for a start, the library was the hub of the action. There were very few resources available online, so borrowing physical copies of books was the only way to access reading for tutorials or seminars. Also, as personal computers were expensive, most students used the facilities provided by the university - cue all-night sessions in an underground 24/7 computer lab chasing deadlines. And don’t even talk about exam time in the library when EVERYONE needed to study at the same time!

All of this seems a world away. Even simple things like navigating across campus meant printing out bus timetables and maps. Need to speak to your tutor? Probably best to queue up at the allocated office hours. There was no notion of the future, when we would all be walking around with mini computers in our pockets to ease our way through the intricacies of everyday life. Now we live in a world where Wi-Fi underpins everything, from email systems in office buildings to life-saving medical equipment in hospitals and it has transformed the student experience.

Managed Internet Service for University and Student Accommodation

Enhance your students’ online experience with better Wi-Fi for student accommodation. From in depth monthly service reports, annual reviews, marketing materials to a student friendly Service Desk and onsite support, Glide will provide everything you need for a fully reliable managed internet service for both you and your students.

Wi-Fi for Student Accommodation

Students want to be constantly connected, wherever they are. Glide’s best in class intelligent pervasive Wi-Fi means that students can enjoy a seamless internet connection across their multiple devices wherever they are in their student accommodation. Plus, all the support they need.

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