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.