5 Campus Wi-Fi Trends Every College CIO Needs to Follow

Written by Danny Mareco Danny Mareco | April 16, 2019 | Read Time: 6 mins

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The higher education IT landscape is constantly changing, especially when you’re focusing on Wi-Fi and networking. What used to be fairly straightforward, is no longer simple or one size fits all. College and University campuses are among the most demanding wireless environments in existence today.

However, even more important, is the expectation placed on these institutions from its students, faculty, and guests. Their unique challenge is to support high-quality, reliable, and secure wireless connectivity, not only while in the classroom, but also in the dorms as well.

While this issue is creating a need for more comprehensive and strategic campus wifi network design now, it’s also critical to start preparing for what's around the corner as well.

But what’s in store for the future?

Here are some campus wireless network trends that your college or university can start planning for right now.

1. Growing User Expectations

Within the Higher-Ed industry, it’s becoming common knowledge that the quality of your Wi-Fi can directly impact your bottom line, both from potential students as well as from potential business partnerships.

Students don't care how it works, they just want it to work. If they can't access the applications they rely on for both school work and social activities then they will have no problem letting everyone know their frustrations.

This means that both Colleges and Universities of all shapes and sizes in order to stay competitive, need to invest in their wireless and networking infrastructures.

It’s important our institutions have the tools to support their most critical business applications like course management systems and learning management systems such as Moodle, and Blackboard. 

It's important you can properly support online testing, secure user onboarding, the growing number of different types of devices. This of course is all while keeping everything and everyone secure.

Some larger schools have the necessary resources to keep up with demand, however, for many schools their IT departments are relatively small, but are still expected to support extremely large and complex networks.

This is why more institutions are looking to either managed Wi-Fi solutions or Wi-Fi as a Service platforms that can offload the daunting task of making sure the campus Wi-Fi network never fails.

Whichever strategy your school chooses, at the end of the day, your end-users just wants the Wi-Fi to work.

2. Expansion of Online Learning and Cloud-Based Applications

No matter how big or how small your college or university is, everyone from students to the administration are turning to mobile, cloud-based applications and online resources to enhance and improve the overall higher education experience.

Online learning expands educational opportunities to an increasing number of people. Many of these users are highly mobile, and want access on the move.

At the same time, cloud-based applications are or have become the backbone of every institutions business strategy. 

These applications depend on the reliability and performance of the school's Wi-Fi and networking infrastructure. Should the network fail and the school shuts down.

It's critical today that schools plan for Wi-Fi and networking like they would any other utility such as power or water. Every building needs the same resources to 

This has to be supported through the right campus wifi solution. Coverage and capacity are still basic principles of any proper WiFi design, but now density and capacity are becoming the focus.

3. The IoT is Changing Everything

IoT (Internet of Things) devices and their demands are changing the game for WiFi, networking, and businesses alike. They're everywhere; accessing our networks for a variety of applications.

From preventative maintenance in manufacturing, to "smart" refrigerators in healthcare the number of uses and amount of devices continues to increase. 

According to IoT-Analytics.com, "The number of IoT devices that are active is expected to grow to 10 billion by 2020 and 22 billion by 2025."

The job of our campus Wi-Fi networks will be to provide constant protection while remaining flexible enough to make sure the appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) or performance levels are met.

This will happen by implementing the right system using the right design, not just a singular product or piece of hardware. Your strategy to support the IoT should include:

  • A proper RF or WiFi design
  • The right mix of enterprise-grade hardware and advanced software tools
    • access points
    • firewalls
    • switches
    • network access control
    • performance monitoring
    • performance sensors
  • Ongoing support and a process to upgrade your network over time

4. Measuring the User Experience

The role of IT is shifting away from only focusing on managing the network, to managing the user experience and that means implementing a way to measure that experience over time.

Using both performance sensors and integrated software, schools are now able to gain a clearer picture of what's happening from the end-user's perspective. 

In the past, IT would look at the network and see that the access points were up but students or staff would still complain that they were having issues, this made troubleshooting frustrating, to say the least.

They would also go out to those locations on campus where an issue was being reported and when they got there see that everything was fine, only to get calls right after they've left, this also is frustrating and not helpful to solving the real problem.

Measuring the user experience by using performance sensors and performance monitoring software, allows schools to:

  • Monitor UX across campus for important applications
    • Real-time visibility
    • Record experience over time
    • Measure critical network services
    • Blackboard/Canvas (learning management/testing applications)
    • Social media sites (Instagram, Facebook, etc.)
  • Troubleshoot issues with the Wi-Fi in case of poor performance
    • Real-time testing of the Wi-Fi network and applications 24/7
    • Create a historical record to baseline performance
    • Packet capture
    • Network path – quickly pinpoint the issue via the sensor platform if necessary
  • Proactively test new applications to ensure performance before you bring them online
  • Place an engineer inside every building

Measuring and managing performance over time through the use of sensors will be a game-changer and a requirement in the years to come.

5. Managed Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi as a Service

From small colleges to large state universities, Wi-Fi and networking is a fraction of the day-to-day responsibilities of IT. Albeit a mission-critical responsibility but not necessarily the main focus. 

With that said, there has been a shift in how businesses, education included, purchase their business applications and systems. 

Today, most are looking to purchase cloud-based managed solutions that are on subscription, and they come in a variety of options.

The two most common options are managed Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi as a Service. Managed Wi-Fi is a hybrid between a CAPEX and OPEX solution where the hardware (equipment) is purchased upfront using capital and the managed network services are purchased on subscription using an OPEX model.

This is a great option for schools that have already budgeted the capital for their network but want to offload the entire or partial task of managing the ongoing health of the network day to day.

Then there is Wi-Fi as a Service, which is an all-in-one platform that combines all of the necessary hardware, software, and managed network services into one monthly subscription. 

Wi-Fi as a Service has a number of advantages over managed WiFi, especially when it comes time to upgrade your equipment (hardware), it also helps lower the upfront cost associated with campus Wi-Fi networks.

The higher education landscape is also changing, which makes planning ahead a must to be successful. If you have any questions about your current wireless network or would like to discuss how you can start measuring performance, please contact us here today!

*Editor's note: This blog post was originally posted April 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for thoroughness and accuracy.

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