How to avoid the Wi-Fi blues in academia

Campus IT staffers have tracked the Wi-Fi demand of mobile devices like the iPad.

Back-to-school season brings as much dread to IT executives in the education field as it does to the students sitting at the desks. As the proliferation of wireless devices in the classroom becomes widespread, the use of iPads, iPhones, and Android handsets by students and faculty causes a constant strain on school wireless networks.

It’s not just the increased number of wireless devices accessing those networks, either. Some websites, applications, and devices are notoriously data-hungry.

The average iPad consumes 400 percent more Wi-Fi data than the average Android, iPod, and iPhone, according to a recent study from Meraki, a company specializing in cloud computing that has worked with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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The push of iPads into the classroom is undoubtedly creating a richer learning environment by integrating multimedia and increasing access to information.

Gone are the days of lugging around textbooks and study guides. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a price — overburdened wireless networks that move at a snail’s pace.

iPads aren’t the only devices that are increasing consumption of Wi-Fi data. Laptops are used extensively on campus, consuming gobs of bandwidth in the process. In higher education networks, Meraki’s study found that laptops consume three times more Wi-Fi data than laptops in general use networks.

Combined with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, this means that network administrators must brace themselves for bandwidth consumption unlike on any other type of network, even when accounting for an equal number of devices.

The inherent mobility of students also means they will strain the network bandwidth across many different campus locations, so network administrators can’t simply strengthen certain parts of the network while ignoring others.

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