How to Improve Wi-Fi Performance in Higher Education: 3 Simple Rules

Written by Danny Mareco Danny Mareco | March 21, 2017 | Read Time: 4 mins

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On college campuses today, students typically carry up to 3.5 mobile devices at any given time, and that's while they're walking around--not in common areas or in their dorm rooms.

With mobile device numbers continuing to rise, supporting a reliable, high-performance campus Wi-Fi experience is becoming more challenging for IT managers to accomplish. 

If your college or university is currently experiencing wifi performance problems and you're looking for some help on how to improve, you can start by following these 3 simple rules.

It’s all about capacity

In the past, wireless network design focused exclusively on providing coverage, or using a certain amount of access points to “cover” an area with a specific amount of RF signal.

However, as wireless technology continues to evolve and the numbers of mobile devices continues to increase, coverage by itself just doesn’t cut it anymore.

To try and fix decreasing wifi performance many colleges make the mistake of adding more APs, or swapping old ones out for new models. Unfortunately, this won’t solve the problem, and could end up causing more wifi problems for your campus.

The first place you should start is with your current WLAN design--making sure it has been optimized for mobile devices and designed for capacity as well as coverage.

Capacity adds context to your design by answering the following questions:

  • What types of devices are accessing your campus network?
  • How many devices are accessing the wireless network?
  • What applications are being run on the devices being used?
  • Howe many end-users (students, professors, staff, guests) are accessing the network?
  • What locations on campus have the highest activity on your campus wifi network?
  • What are the capabilities of the devices you’re trying to support?

Answering these questions allows you to deliver the necessary wifi performance your end-users, devices and applications require.

Let’s take a large lecture hall for example. Even if you have proper coverage for the physical space, if your access points can only support 100 devices and you have 200 trying to access your network, you’re going to have slower speeds (if you can get on at all) and a lot of frustrated end-users.

Prioritize mission critical applications

With higher education comes the onslaught of a variety of different applications, from administrative apps to recreational apps like Snapchat and about a thousand places in between.

Sometimes what’s impacting your wifi performance isn’t your infrastructure, rather the lack of control over who or what gets access to certain network resources. In other words, you don’t want Netflix getting in the way of a teacher giving an online test.

Application prioritization provides visibility and control over which applications get priority over others on your Wi-Fi network.

In order for application prioritization to work you will need:

  • Application visibility - your WLAN firewall should be able to identify the application being used by a signature. This allows you to distinguish between different applications and apply policies to control which apps get priority.
  • QoS &Prioritization support - both your wired and wireless infrastructure should be able to tag, identify, hand-off and maintain QoS. Without consistent support across both the wireless and wired parts of your network it fails.

Deploy a wireless network management system

If you have no way of monitoring the performance of your campus’s wireless system in on-going basis, chances are it won’t operate the way you need it too.

Wireless network management software provides real-time visibility and analytics into what is happening on your WLAN to maintain optimal performance and security.

When talking about visibility there are 3 main components an NMS allows you to see:

  • RF coverage - You're able to see where the APs are covering (a heat map of coverage) on campus in real-time, as well as various changes that may occur throughout the day.
  • Device connections - gives you data on the devices accessing your campus wifi network.
    • IP addresses
    • Current signal level they are receiving
    • APs and Channels they are using to access your WLAN
  • Device Locations - NMS allows you to pinpoint the location of end-users based off the access points they have accessed throughout the day.

Campus Wi-Fi is dynamic--constantly changing. From new devices and new applications, to new security threats and even new buildings, your wireless system requires a network management system to deliver proper wifi performance.

Check out this blog on 5 Critical Features Your Network Management System should Include.

Next Steps

Simply put, if it’s connected to your network, you need to be able to support it-no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

However, actually accomplishing this task is easier said then done. Wi-Fi performance issues come from an ever growing list of different places on your network, requiring both proper planning and on-going monitoring to ensure your wireless system works properly from day one and beyond.

If you're struggling to diagnose what's going wrong with your current system there's two different tests you can run, for more information on what these are, watch the video below:

Wireless is complex and it takes experience and the right certifications to be successful, so as you take the next steps towards better Wi-Fi make sure you're partnering with the right wireless service provider.


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