Supporting a network in a higher-ed setting can be a daunting task. With their proclivity for mobile devices, video games, wearable technology, and laptops (just to name a few), higher ed IT users may not realize how their tech choices can impact the network at large.

Generally, users at higher-ed institutions assume they can have bandwidth on-demand—as much as they want whenever they want—and take advantage of that regularly. These attitudes can mean that the university network becomes a traffic jam; difficult to administrate and nearly impossible to run smoothly.

According to the Association for College and University Technology Advancement (ACUTA), bandwidth on college campuses has nearly doubled since 2012 to accommodate, but it still may not be enough. How is an administrator to manage such a large, growing increase in demand? Don’t panic. There are definite trends in technology usage and several “bandwidth hogs” that make up a majority of network traffic in higher ed. Here are the top four, and a few tips for how to manage them.

1. Laptops
Today’s “traditional” college students will usually bring everything they need with them to college, including their laptops. Laptops have become a necessary part of the university classroom; used by students and teachers to connect, take notes, and have their work at their fingertips during class time. The 2016 ACUTA survey found that, as of 2015, laptops have become the top bandwidth-consuming devices on campus (taking over from mobile devices in previous years). Laptops tend to run programs that require more bandwidth (such as video games, virtual-learning tools, multimedia file storage, or streaming services like Netflix). Additionally, students may use laptops for P2P sharing methods, music downloading, and other high-bandwidth activities that are sure to take a bite out of your network.

The laptop is not going away anytime soon, so consider putting a yearly cap on bandwidth allotment per student login. This will encourage students to take some of their higher-bandwidth-hogging activities to alternate locations, such as a local library or coffee shop, freeing up space on your network.

(Next page: More bandwidth hogs and solutions)

2. Tablets
While tablet bandwidth usage is trending down from previous years, it is still a major contributing factor to the higher-ed digital traffic jam. In 2013, tablets accounted for 83.5 percent of the highest bandwidth usage devices. In 2016, that number was down to 57.7 percent; still a large percentage, but not nearly as overwhelming as it used to be.

Tablets are an important part of the experience, allowing students to access digital textbooks and other resources cheaply and on-demand. That said, some institutions have found that limiting the number of mobile devices allowed on the university network per user profile has helped to alleviate this particular bandwidth issue.

3. Video systems
Apple TV, Roku, and DVD/Blu-Ray players are all significant users of university bandwidth due to the nature of the files they stream. Multimedia is a huge drain on bandwidth resources, and so devices used specifically to access these files are definite culprits in the bandwidth war. One estimate puts 87.7 percent of bandwidth-draining apps in the realm of TV and video content, pointing a clear finger at the systems that support them.

Combating this might be a matter of creating other appealing options to resident students. By offering regular cable in dormitories, universities might cut back on the number of IPTV devices their students bring to campus and, thus, bandwidth requirements to serve these devices.

4. Smartphones
Smartphones have become a necessary sidekick for a large majority of the population; as a result, they are an ever-present force on university networks. The ACUTA survey found that they account for 55.2 percent of the highest bandwidth-consuming devices.

Some universities have tried to reduce this number by bolstering cell service in the area of their institution, encouraging users to exchange data via their cellular network rather than the university’s.

As users begin to expect more from their university’s network, the bandwidth needed to support them will become more difficult to come by. Only 17 percent of technology officers surveyed by ACUTA think that their residential networks will be able to keep up with the future of the Internet of Things. Implementing protocols now that can help alleviate bandwidth problems will be a long-term solution to what will surely only get worse as technology progresses and student expectations expand.

What are the biggest bandwidth hogs at your university? What steps is your IT department taking to meet the network needs of your users? Let us know in the comments.

[Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Optimal Partners blog.].

About the Author:

Danielle Rosvally, Ph.D., is a college professor, writer, and technology enthusiast.


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