The proliferation of connected devices (Gartner predicts that 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020) is coming with a generation of people who will leverage the internet in novel ways. Already, online courses and web-based resources are an everyday option on campuses all over the country thanks to students’ diverse web needs.
To handle this new digital paradigm, universities are coming up with new ways to leverage students’ expanding use of technology and adapt their networks to meet new demands. Current teaching styles and innovative campus technologies supporting these Gen Z web needs are leading to a shift in how higher education plans and deploys its IT infrastructure.
Universities that are meeting students’ needs:
1. Understand that Demand is Unquenchable; At least 1 GB per Student!
As more devices get added to the network and user behaviors change, an unquenchable demand for bandwidth is hitting universities. This goes double for campuses where thousands of students both live and learn.
According to a 2016 report from the Association for College and University Technology Advancement (ACUTA), over 68 percent of universities allocate at least 1GB of bandwidth to each student on residential on-campus networks. To put that in perspective, it takes 5MB of bandwidth to stream an HD movie from Netflix and just 30MB of data for a 15 minute Skype call.
(Next page: How universities are meeting Gen Z’ s web needs, 2-5)
2. Know that Devices are Proliferating
The bandwidth provided to students is being consumed using a remarkably high number of devices. A 2014 report from the Re:Fuel Agency found that students were bringing as many as seven devices on campus each semester. Incoming freshman are bringing game consoles, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and smart TVs to campus. These devices are being used to stream video, download apps, study on LMS platforms, and interact with peers on social media.
3. Accept that Students are Connected in the Classroom
Students are resoundingly digital-first in the classroom, too. In 2015, Pearson found that two-thirds of students use a laptop to study. The report also found that 77 percent of students believe tablets will replace textbooks in five years. Students are also not unplugging when they exit the classroom. A 2016 University of Nebraska-Lincoln study found that 50 percent of all bandwidth used on their campus was from video streaming.
4. Shape Bandwidth on Residential Networks
With so much bandwidth being used for work and play, it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage university networks. Many universities are moving towards expanding their technology portfolios and establishing better traffic enforcement to maintain control of networks.
The ACUTA report previously mentioned found that over 41 percent of campus administrators are shaping bandwidth — manipulating networking connections based on activity types — on residential networks. This allows for more bandwidth to be focused on educational opportunities, and less of it to be used on Snapchat.
5. Tap into a High-Capacity IP Backbone
Another option for many universities is to join with local partners to tap into a high capacity IP backbone provided by wholesale carriers. Groups like the Lonestar Educational and Research Network (LEARN) — a collection of educational and research groups in Texas — have successfully pulled together resources to utilize 100G connections using a tier 1 IP backbone. A similar effort was undertaken by a consortium of universities in North Carolina.
Collaborative efforts to bring faster networks to a community are providing benefits for both students and the greater community. The availability of networks that tap into a tier 1 backbone have shown to entice large companies and startups. Google’s push to bring fiber to Kansas City resulted in an influx of startups opening up shop in the Missouri city. Just earlier this year, high capacity bandwidth was also cited as a reason GE left its Connecticut home after 40+ years.
The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be
The digital transformation is here to stay. It is now up to universities to invest in network infrastructure that scales for the future. IT administrators will need to develop a plan that expects to handle cloud storage, millions of devices, VR, 4K and 8K video, and research initiatives.
Higher education is often either the first or last to adapt to change, but when it comes to building appropriate networks for a digital future, they’ll need to be one of the first.