When education and business mix with recreation on the same network, it creates fundamental challenges with network capacity.

Students, faculty and staff at higher education institutions today struggle with consistently bad internet access via an unsafe and unreliable Wi-Fi connection—mostly due to bandwidth-sucking apps.

Far too often, campus-goers accept poor coverage, slow connections or drop outs as part of the game. While the use of different Wi-Fi connected devices continues to grow unabated, dependence on wireless as a utility comes into the spotlight. A recent Gartner report states, the world will see 25 billion internet-connected things by 2020, nearly 4 times the number connected today. This type of growth places an increased strain on a college campus’ Wi-Fi network.

To provide a utility-grade experience, appropriate enterprise infrastructure in conjunction with a cutting-edge design is key. While these may seem to be obvious considerations, it’s a surprise how often they are shortchanged by unscrupulous vendors or integrators who end up selling largely on price.

If you have appropriately addressed the issues of quality and design, it is important to understand specifically what consumes the capacity on your Wi-Fi network.

Higher education was the first market segment to adopt bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. BYOD brings with it the challenge of mixed usage, which combines critical education and business related application usage (e.g., online instruction, cloud storage, communication) with recreational application usage (e.g., streaming video, social media, gaming).

When education and business mix with recreation on the same network, it creates fundamental challenges with network capacity. The network must be intelligent enough to appropriately prioritize what is important and de-prioritize (or even block) what is not.

(Next page: 4 bandwidth-sucking apps)

What Consumes Capacity?

There are different types of applications that can create challenges on mixed usage Wi-Fi networks. Some examples include:

1.Streaming media: Netflix, YouTube, Apple Music, Pandora

2.Cloud backups and updates: iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, iOS

3.VPN: Hotspot Shield, Ultrasurf, OpenVPN

4.Social media: Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook

Streaming media remains the biggest challenge on most networks today. Bandwidth-hungry video already constitutes well over half of internet traffic today. It will certainly continue to grow as higher resolutions gain popularity and additional services are introduced. On a college campus, we have seen Netflix traffic surge to the majority of the traffic at certain times of day, like in the evening when more students are in their dorm rooms.

The second category – cloud backups and updates – can be a “silent but deadly” bandwidth hog. These applications often run in the background and move gigabytes of data, often unbeknownst to the user.

Aside from the security implications, VPN applications generate user experience issues which push users to circumvent firewalls and access any internet content they want. This not only is a security risk for the user, but also the campus Wi-Fi network as a whole.

With content the center of all online media, social media applications burden the network with back and forth activity. Users share videos, images, blog posts, comments and more, which takes bandwidth away from education-critical applications.

(Next page: How to manage bandwidth-sucking apps)

Responding with App-Level Intelligence

To address the mixed use challenge on BYOD-centric Wi-Fi networks, application-level intelligence in the Wi-Fi infrastructure proves paramount. True enterprise Wi-Fi systems must have the ability to identify, prioritize and limit applications appropriately to ensure a good user experience for those who use the network and approach utility-grade nirvana.

While most Wi-Fi networks may work well most of the time, there will always be scenarios where usage can spike, which can lead to major performance issues. Examples might include a packed auditorium for a special lecture, a sellout crowd in the football stadium, the release of a major new iOS upgrade or an emergency situation on campus. Don’t forget the element of growth over time—how the network will handle an increase in usage year-by-year.

To address these challenges, the first step is to understand current usage. What applications operate on the network? Which applications use the most capacity? When and where on campus is usage the greatest? Once these elements are understood, appropriate network policies can be put in place. These policies can be added or adjusted over time to deliver the appropriate level of service and ensure the Wi-Fi network serves its functional purpose.

An application-intelligent approach, such as that provided by Xirrus’ solution with Application Control, can help manage the capacity challenges on campus Wi-Fi networks we have discussed. This function operates directly on Xirrus enterprise-grade access points to monitor and manage application flow.

About the Author:

Bruce Miller is vice president, product marketing for Xirrus Wi-Fi Networks. He has over 25 years of experience bringing telecommunications products to market in marketing, business development, and engineering roles.

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