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Lights out! Why IT shops are disabling wireless AP LEDs

Bob Brown | Sept. 9, 2016
Wi-Fi access point LEDs are keeping some people up at night

Having seen all sorts of makeshift fixes – from post-it notes to bandages to condom wrappers – used to block wireless access point LEDs from beaming and sometimes blinking, some IT shops have begun turning off the lights altogether even though it can make their jobs a little tougher. 

Lively discussion broke out online this week among a forum of university IT pros after one member inquired about this “first-world problem,” as he contemplates whether to disable LEDs on APs across the board in an effort to improve dorm residents’ quality of life (i.e., help them grab more shuteye by reducing in-room light pollution). More than a dozen peers replied that they have indeed turned off the lights, some doing so in a wholesale manner, others taking it case by case. They say technicians can re-enable LEDs temporarily if need be for troubleshooting.

“I’ve disabled them when asked, because in spots where I’ve disabled them ‘wholesale’, I invariably get a ticket (or more) that the AP is offline and wireless is broken because there are no lights on the AP,” says Rice University Senior Network Architect Danny Eaton, who works with a variety of Cisco APs. “I enable the LED, and magically the wireless performance and coverage is perfect.”

John Cosgrove, wireless network staff specialist for Penn State Health/Penn State College of Medicine, says LEDs have been disabled for testing purposes on a subset of Cisco APs in a support area, and he believes it would be “an easy global change” to disable them more widely in the name of patient satisfaction. Cosgrove has seen enough access point LEDs covered with medical tape or bandages in hospital rooms (likely by staff, adhering to patients’ wishes) to know that the lights can bother patients. “It seems when you are sick and laying in a hospital bed and have trouble sleeping, the single LED shining in your eyes is an issue.  I get it and understand it.”


Wireless APs obviously have become more ubiquitous, and increasingly are being moved out of hallways and into spaces such as dorm rooms, hospital rooms and offices. "Hallways are generally a poor choice because you really need the APs closest to clients, and walls provide separation that helps with [radio resource management] and such," says Lee Badman, the network architect within Information Technology Services at Syracuse University who sparked the original conversation online among his peers.

One result of Wi-Fi users being in closer quarters with APs, though, is that many have taken it upon themselves to make the devices glow a little less brightly even as the users benefit from the improved wireless coverage. Some users don't want a beacon shining in their eyes as they try to get to sleep and others worry about the health effects of a blue light glowing all night. Some even resort to unplugging the gear when they're not using it.


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