Minding the Wi-Fi Campus Gap

EDUCAUSE recently published a detailed report that explores the technology experiences, behaviors, and preferences of undergraduate students across the United States. As the report confirms, U.S. students appear to have overcome the problem of digital inclusion that relates to access to Internet-enabled devices and reliable Wi-Fi. More specifically, an analysis of the typical correlates of the digital divide—ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic status—fails to reveal a pattern of unequal access to the devices most important to student academic success.

Wi-Fi Campus

Minding the Wi-Fi Campus Gap

Nevertheless, significant gaps remain in terms of the quality of wireless connectivity and ease of login in various campus locations such as dormitories, student housing, and outdoor spaces. Perhaps not surprisingly, students consistently rate Wi-Fi reliability as good or excellent in areas such as libraries and classrooms. However, Wi-Fi network access receives a lower grade in dormitories, student housing, and various outdoor locations.

Specifically, students report continued dissatisfaction with Wi-Fi logins. Indeed, multiple daily and monthly logins remain notable barriers to an uninterrupted Wi-Fi experience across campus. As such, the report recommends that IT departments examine student login experiences to ensure a less obtrusive network login experience across campus throughout the school year. The report also notes that poor results in dormitories may be due to attempted IoT device logins. This is because IoT devices are typically designed for the consumer sector, rather than an enterprise Wi-Fi network with stronger security capabilities required and in use.

As the EDUCAUSE report concludes, campus-wide technology initiatives may be impacted without the deployment of quality Wi-Fi networks. For example, colleges shifting curriculums from print textbooks to digital open-educational resources (OER) will likely require upgraded networks to meet the demands of increased student traffic to access and engage with materials across campus – especially student housing.

Faster Campus Wi-Fi with Wi-Fi 6 APs

Ensuring the delivery of fast, reliable and ubiquitous Wi-Fi across campus is clearly a priority for colleges and universities. However, many outdoor and student housing facilities are built with construction materials that dampen wireless signal propagation. Deploying an AP in every dorm room eliminates this issue and ensures the uninterrupted delivery of Wi-Fi. Universities can also use wall-mounted APs and switch platforms that combine fast Wi-Fi with wired connections for gaming systems (eSports, Fortnite, etc.) and 4K UHD video streaming.

It is also important to understand that all wireless access points (APs) are not created equal. For example, Wi-Fi 6 APs designed for ultra-high-density environments can help dormitories, student housing, and outdoor spaces such as stadiums achieve up to a four-fold capacity increase (over Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 APs) in dense scenarios. This is made possible by numerous enhancements to the ever-evolving 802.11 Wi-Fi feature set, including 1024-Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), Target Wake Time (TWT), Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), BSS Coloring, and MU-MIMO Because device adoption may lag, there are multiple proprietary methods that can help provide Wi-Fi 6-like efficiencies for legacy devices. These include features such as airtime decongestion to reduce unnecessary traffic, adaptive cell sizing, and variable Tx power control to help reduce interference, as well as transient client management to maintain optimal throughput levels for connected clients.

Personal Student Networks

As we note above, EDUCAUSE recommends that IT departments analyze student login experiences to ensure seamless network logins across campus throughout the school year. For example, multiple daily and monthly logins are confirmed barriers to using campus Wi-Fi. From our perspective, the implementation of personal student networks will allow colleges and universities to better address Wi-Fi login pain points. Key features and benefits of personal networks for students include:

True home-away-from-home networking: When students arrive on campus, their own personal network—with all their devices (including BYoT), and no one else’s—is ready for them. Everything just works. No calls to the helpdesk and no demands for multiple logins, day after day or week after week. And granting access to a friend—to use a printer or hop onto a PlayStation/Xbox—is just as easy as at home.

  • Connectivity from anywhere: Students can access their network and devices from across campus—sending a paper to their personal printer on the way back from class, streaming video from their personal media server to a smartphone while out in the quad, and more.
  • Strong security: A personal student network provides all students with their own secure, private VLANs. Each student sees only their own devices, so they don’t have to worry about someone down the hall accessing their stuff. For colleges or universities, personal VLANs reduce the network attack surface. Even if a device is infected with malware, it can’t easily spread beyond that student’s personal network.
  • Simpler IT: Since onboarding is entirely self-service, campus IT can expect a huge reduction in helpdesk calls on move-in day. When problems do crop up, they’re easier to troubleshoot, since each student has a very small domain to be investigated. And, if a student is using the network for unauthorized or malicious activity, IT can now easily lock them out—without affecting anyone else.

Interested in learning more about how we can help you eliminate Wi-Fi pain points with our smart campus solutions? You can visit our higher education solutions page.

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