A wi-fi symbol made up of people to signify the ubiquitousness of wi-fi on campus

The answer to better campus wi-fi: Artificial intelligence

Machine learning helps pinpoint network problems before they become problems

How next-generation networks work

What we’ve learned at Dartmouth is that a new generation of network—one powered by AI and automation—can help us diagnose issues across campus at a radically greater pace and scale than was possible with our old manually-driven WLAN.

We purchased an AI-driven wireless network from Mist, which does what a human couldn’t possibly do: collect 150 pieces of information every two seconds about what every wi-fi user is experiencing. That data is then analyzed in the cloud using machine learning, and the system immediately returns detailed information about the problem’s source and root cause.

This advanced level of troubleshooting allows us to do something that was unheard of in the old architecture: establish wi-fi service-level baselines for initial connection, roaming time, and other inflection points. For example, we can delineate that it should take no more than two seconds for a smartphone user in the Wheeler residence hall to access the wi-fi, know right away if it took longer, and see in a clear, easy-to-read format what exactly in the network went wrong.

Related: How better campus wi-fi can prevent a student zombie apocalypse

The system is true AI in that it learns over time and can predict issues even before they happen, which adds a self-healing element to the WLAN. The technology we acquired even has a Siri-like “virtual network assistant” that uses natural language processing to provide network administrators with answers to questions such as, “How are the wi-fi access points in Baker-Berry Library performing?”

Since the new Mist wireless network came online, complaints to the help desk have plummeted. And when complaints do come in, help desk reps are usually more able to handle them independently, without having to hand them off to the network services team.

Dartmouth may seem a natural to be an early adopter of an AI-driven campus WLAN. After all, the field of AI research was born at a workshop organized by a Dartmouth professor on the campus in 1956. However, any university should consider the implementation of an AI-powered network as part of a broader digital transformation initiative that will better serve the university community in the digital age.

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