Six higher ed trends and the infrastructure your peers are adopting to address them.
GUEST COLUMN | by Christian Gilby
It’s no secret that digital learning, flipped classrooms and the IoT continue to drive data capacity and mobility demands on campus. So what’s at the top of campus IT department to-do lists in 2016? Here are six trends we’re seeing at institutions of all sizes and the infrastructure strategies being adopted to meet evolving needs.
1) Accelerated Embrace of Digital Instruction
Once-reticent faculty members have now gained proficiencies with modern learning technologies, ranging from streaming video to online testing tools, turbocharging classroom Wi-Fi bandwidth demands. In many cases, the performance and capacity needs of the
As fast as higher education institutions completed projects to blanket facilities with Wi-Fi coverage, the paradigm has shifted to addressing exploding device densities.
campus network far exceed what many higher ed IT departments anticipated just a few years ago.
2) Supporting Conference and Event Revenue
Fewer educational facilities stand empty during off-hours and academic breaks as institutions increasingly leverage their brick-and-mortar assets to generate revenue. Naturally, providing quality mobile connectivity is critical to the success of these efforts, particularly when catering to corporate clientele.
3) Students Live Online
To attract and retain students, institutions with residence facilities are acutely aware of the escalating mobile connectivity demands. Streaming video devices, like Apple TV, Fire TV and Chromecast, have become as ubiquitous as gaming devices, wireless audio gear, smartphones, tablets and laptops. With wearables also quickly joining the ranks, the average per-person device count is pushing beyond five or more.
4) Students Want a Better Campus Experiences
As competition for students heats up, higher ed institutions are looking for new ways to enhance campus experiences. Mobility-enabled services, such as wayfinding, are offering solutions to improve navigation around campus.
5) It’s All About Density
As fast as higher education institutions completed projects to blanket facilities with Wi-Fi coverage, the paradigm has shifted to addressing exploding device densities. In other words, very high-density wireless deployments are moving from isolated projects in the largest lecture halls to more commonly occur in spaces wherever multiple individuals gather to live and learn.
6) Stadiums and Arenas: Not Offline, Anymore
Whether they’re sharing experiences with distant friends, accessing on-demand video replays, checking scores at other venues or making plans for after the game, today’s athletic event attendees now expect a superior, reliable Wi-Fi connection. And, with new IoT devices making it possible to adjust a home thermostat or video chat the baby sitter, attendee appetite for high-performance mobility will only increase.
Infrastructure Solutions to Match Skyrocketing Demands
Given the skyrocketing data demands across campus, higher education institutions are responding with investments in more robust and manageable networking infrastructure during 2016 and beyond. These initiatives include:
Transitioning to All-Wireless Spaces. The paucity of mobile devices with a wired port makes all-wireless deployments both practical and, increasingly, cost-effective. For example, at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University, where 5,000 mostly-existing student residence units were converted to all-wireless, the institution reported saving over one million dollars by eliminating wired ports for end users.
Standardizing on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. With the IEEE’s 802.11ac, Wi-Fi finally achieved wire-quality characteristics with peak data rates of up to 1.7 Gbps in the 5GHz band, earning it the moniker “Gigabit Wi-Fi.”
The first generation of 802.11ac access points (AP), called Wave 1, improve wireless speeds by about 3X versus the 801.11n Wi-Fi standard with data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps in 5GHz. In addition to providing solutions for your density needs, 802.11ac Wave 1 APs also support outdoor and large-venue situations such as stadiums and arenas.
Appropriate solutions for higher ed include features allowing instructors to control access to connected devices, such as projectors and group collaboration monitors.
Riding Wave 2. As a future-proofing strategy, institutions are adopting the next generation of 802.11ac, known as Wave 2. Initially boosting Wi-Fi speeds to 1.7Gbps in 5GHz, up 30 percent over Wave 1, Wave 2 could usher in 3.4 Gbps data rates, as the related FCC regulations evolve.
Perhaps more importantly, Wave 2’s other innovations include multi-user multiple inputs and multiple outputs (MU-MIMO) and four spatial streams (4SS). In a nutshell, using MU-MIMO in combination with 4SS means each Wi-Fi AP can transmit to multiple client devices, simultaneously, along separate streams thus increasing the utilization of the network and enabling higher device densities.
Deploying Multi-Gigabit Switches. Successfully rolling out Gigabit Wi-Fi requires proper engineering, from APs to the core, including updating to multi-gigabit Ethernet edge switches. Some solutions can automatically detect and provide the proper connection such as 1, 2.5, 5 or 10GigE. This technology resulted from work by the NBASE-T and MGBASE-T technology alliances, which the IEEE is utilizing to create the 802.3bz specification.
On a practical level, multi-gig switches enable Wave 2 deployments over existing Cat 5e/Cat 6 cabling – a significant savings for your institution over running new cable – as 2016 will see vendors introducing APs with 2.5GigE uplinks.
Rolling Out Mobile Engagement. By leveraging their wireless infrastructures, along with mobile apps and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons, institutions are enhancing the “always connected” experiences of students and visitors alike. This includes services such as turn-by-turn directions to points of interest, ranging from resources within buildings to external architectural features or even scheduled activities.
Adopting Modern Wi-Fi Optimization & Access Management Tools. The combination of more client devices, and more APs to serve them, makes robust enterprise tools essential to effective network optimization and access management. Modern tools even offer multi-vendor support to enable unified administration of wired and wireless networks – within a single pane of glass.
Deployment Approaches to Fit Any Budget
To make Wi-Fi modernizations manageable, institutions will not only continue using phased deployments but also leverage tiered approaches. In short, a tiered approach matches use cases with the corresponding APs. For example, cost-effective Wave 1 APs are appropriate for many campus spaces, while Wave 2 APs are more suitable for high-density areas such as lecture halls and conference facilities.
Regardless of your institution’s specific situation, it’s an exciting time for mobile connectivity. With improved infrastructure options, the coming year will see higher ed institutions offering their constituencies with better instructional and recreational connectivity than ever before.
Patent holder Christian Gilby is a Director of Product Marketing at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, with 20-plus years of experience in the networking industry, including a strong focus on mobility and wireless. Prior to Aruba, he held a leadership role at ShoreTel Mobility, after ShoreTel acquired Gilby’s mobile unified communications startup, Agito Networks. Before to Agito, Gilby served as an early Meru Networks employee. He started his career at Nortel Networks.