What’s hogging bandwidth on college campuses?

Bandwidth demands have been at critical levels for years on college campuses of every size, and the ubiquity of tablets has only complicated matters for higher education IT officials.

IT officials expect to struggle in keeping up with bandwidth demand.

Students returned to campus last month with more web-connected devices than ever — up to seven per student, by some estimates — leaving campus technologists searching for ways to keep up with insatiable demand for internet bandwidth to power every kind of media consumption.

The “State of ResNet Report” 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.

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.

Students now own an average of seven mobile devices, up from 6.4 in 2012, according to a study from Marketing Charts. The average 18-34-year-old student now spends 3.6 hours a day on their smart phone, up from 3.3 hours last year.

“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.”

(Next page: Tablets to blame?)

Nine in 10 IT decision makers who responded to a March 2012 ACUTA survey of 249 U.S. campuses said tablets were likely to consume the most bandwidth in coming years.

This has prompted 19 percent of schools in the ACUTA survey to impose restrictions on the number of mobile devices a single student can connect to the campus’s network.

Instituting strict limitations on how much broadband a student can consume has brought significant savings to some schools in recent years. The University of Washington first put the brakes on students’ bandwidth usage in 2002, when the school saved more than $1 million by instituting the rules.