Innovation corner: Bandwidth headaches and solutions

Higher education officials usually avoid words like “perplexing” and “intractable” when discussing campus challenges with reporters, but those words have cropped up time and again in my interviews about bandwidth demand.

bandwidthIt’s bandwidth demand, that spiked a few years ago and has steadily risen on campuses large and small. Students are bringing a handful of web-connected devices to school, and they’ve come to expect uninterrupted connection to high-speed networks no matter what.

Campus technology officials say the response is often expensive, time-intensive, and stressful for school IT departments.

A 2013 national survey breaks down exactly which devices are using the most bandwidth on campuses. The prevalence of tablets — once a rarity — has wreaked havoc at many schools. A recent higher-ed survey, the “State of ResNet” reports, breaks down exactly which devices are using the most bandwidth on campuses.

Eighty-four percent of respondents to the ResNet Report said tablets are the biggest drain on their campus’s bandwidth, with 75 percent saying laptops and desktops are the main culprit.

Six in 10 said internet-connected Blu-Ray players are to blame for bandwidth woes. Sixty-three percent pointed to smartphones and 61 percent said video games are a central issue in maintaining reliable bandwidth for every student.

Perhaps most alarming for universities: Half of campuses said the money spent on satiating students’ broadband needs for their laptops, smart phones, tablet computers, and video game consoles is never recovered through tuition or student fees.

“There is an expectation right now among students of, ‘Any device, any time, as much as we want,’” said Joe Harrington, director of network services at Boston College (BC). “This has [IT officials] back on their heels a little bit, looking for ways to deal with this proactively rather than reactively.”

Here are four solutions to the ever-present bandwidth problem in higher education. Check out each one and let me know if your campus has used a certain company and service in addressing bandwidth demand. Email me at

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