The 3 campus bandwidth offenders—and how to manage them

New campus bandwidth lessons for managing your critical Wi-Fi network.

Over the past five years, student Wi-Fi expectations have gone from convenience to pervasive. Wi-Fi connectivity permeates every location, available no matter where students are on campus. With the new school year well underway, how can colleges and universities across the country ensure their Wi-Fi networks handle the ongoing campus bandwidth hurdles that will only grow over the course of the year?

According to a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln study, students reported using their connected devices an average of 11 times per day in class. Campuses must provide secure, reliable service in environments ranging from lower density (offices, classrooms and dorms) to high-density (lecture halls and stadiums seating 10s of thousands of fans).

To complicate matters worse, the user and device populations constantly change. Unlike K-12 education, students arrive or leave each semester and devices are not standardized. I have seen college students move into the dorm with as many as 20 Wi-Fi enabled devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, printers, game consoles, extra drives, you name it. Then after the holiday season, they come back with more devices and the expectation to connect them all. New devices and applications emerge all the time. And it all has to go onto the Wi-Fi network.

It Comes Down to Knowing the Bandwidth Offenders

To assure consistent service, network administrators must be prepared to closely monitor and manage usage based on need, location, time of day, and system requirements. Watch out for three key offenders:

1. Bandwidth-hogging Video

Our data shows video streaming consumes the most Wi-Fi bandwidth on college campuses, with social media consumption coming in close second. No surprise there: Well over 50 percent of all internet traffic consists of video today and that will rise to 75 percent within the next few years. Additionally, YouTube, iTunes, Snapchat, Instagram, Netflix all behave in different ways. Network administrators need to consider the behavior of these types of applications in a large student population. Of course, this usage cannot detract from the educational and productivity apps that students are (hopefully) spending much of their time on, such as Blackboard, Office 365, GoToMeeting, etc.

2. Background Uploads and Updates

Administrators do not always allow for a common bandwidth eater – file syncing apps such as iCloud, Drobox, Box, and OS updates from companies like Apple or Android. Developers design file syncing apps to operate continually and transparently in the background. OS updates can trigger at a moment’s notice with a new software release. Both file syncing and OS updates can use a substantial amount of bandwidth. In fact, Drobox has a set policy of taking up 75 percent of available bandwidth when needed to update unless it is turned off. And Apple iOS updates have brought more than one college campus network nearly to its knees upon release.

(Next page: More campus bandwidth offenders; solutions)

3. Firewall Evaders

In addition, keep an eye out for apps that students might use to bypass campus security policy. For example, the freeware Ultrasurf app bypasses filters and firewalls by going through a proxy server. Students may use it to go where schools do not want them to, such as gambling and other inappropriate sites. Hotspot Shield does the same; it provides a free virtual private network (VPN) that offers privacy, security and access to blocked content. Students who gain access to these websites and video streams may unexpectedly impact the network.

Application Intelligent Networks

For campuses struggling with Wi-Fi performance, application-level intelligence helps bring sanity to the mess by prioritizing critical apps, such as education or productivity apps, over entertainment services. This ensures network administrators service important apps with the best quality to ensure predictable performance, while they provide unimportant apps with only best effort service. Some of today’s Wi-Fi solutions can manage applications directly on the access point to deliver the best performance.

Management tools are also key to making everything work seamlessly. Administrators set policies to block, rate, limit, and prioritize apps based on a variety of factors, including time of day, device type, user type or location. For example, the administrator can set a policy to block large file transfer apps such as BitTorrent everywhere except in the dorms, or they completely block the use of security evasion apps.


In today’s highly dynamic college environments, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter network design. Administrators must be able to manage and provision current Wi-Fi usage while remaining adaptable to react to the next change around the corner. With the right tools and application intelligence designed for the task, administrators will be in the position to handle the inevitable and constant changes in the network year to year, and ultimately keep their students learning.

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