Wireless for bandwidth-hungry students
How difficult is it catering for the newly emerged, Wi-Fi-ready generation currently swarming university campuses?
It’s one thing to provide decent wireless coverage for an office of 100 people, but quite another to provide it across a whole campus, where it will be stretched to its limits by thousands of bandwidth-hungry students. Such is the concern facing educational institutions today — students come to school with at least one smart device, but probably two or three. And they demand wireless connectivity — for internet, for access to student services, or just to relax the strain on their cellular data plans. But how difficult is it catering for this Wi-Fi-ready generation? And how can wireless networks best be set up to meet their demands?
As Rakesh Lakhani, head of mobile broadband at Ericsson Middle East, explains, tech-savvy students are increasingly dependent on wireless networks for seamless connectivity and superior quality of experience, and typically incorporate network access, performance, and the advancement of technology on campus as part of the decision criteria when selecting their educational institution of choice.
“A well designed wireless network enables the educational institution to offer services such as video on demand from a digitised library and rebroadcast of classroom material while students use the network to facilitate access to important campus services, effective collaboration, and video streaming of educational material,” he says.
“The educational institution’s wireless infrastructure and technology available on campus has a bearing on attracting and retaining students.”
Manish Bhardwaj, marketing manager for the Middle East and Turkey at Aruba Networks, agrees that wireless internet access has become something of a necessity for educational institutions. He says that being connected and mobile is now an essential part of life, meaning that students demand high-quality connectivity when they’re on-campus — after all, they get it at home. But he also points out that embracing mobility can also lead to creating new ways in which learning institutions can deliver education.
“Last year, Aruba Networks conducted a study which questioned nearly 1,500 students globally. It showed that nearly two thirds (65%) of today’s students own three or more connected devices, spend over five hours a day on their mobiles, often use more than five apps at any one time, and are regularly rejecting traditional lecture hall-based learning for digital working across campus — whenever it works for them,” he says.
“About half even said they preferred to work ‘outside of normal school hours’, stating they worked more efficiently. Universities today are realising the advantages of using mobile technologies, for both students and lecturers. Understanding that, they allow for a diversification and evolvement in — often historic — teaching methods, which in turn offers flexibility to accommodate different styles of student learning,” he says.
The importance of providing a high-quality campus Wi-Fi network, then, is hardly in debate. The real question, however, is how universities and other educational institutions go about building these networks. Thankfully, the Middle East has not seen any ‘disaster’ implementations, but without the right tools, knowledge and talent, there is a risk of spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t perform as intended.
According to Vic Quan, technical manager at TP-Link Middle East, the first thing to consider is that the network should be totally unified. He believes that IT managers should be able to manage the network through one terminal, from which bandwidth traffic can be both controlled and monitored.
“A campus-wide Wi-Fi network must require a unified solution — all the management should be done from one terminal. Bandwidth traffic should be assigned on average to provide better a Wi-Fi experience and portal authentication is essential to avoid malicious access or attacks,” he says.