Providing sufficient bandwidth is the biggest BYOD-related network challenge that campus IT leaders face. As mobile learning devices are integrated into the curricula and campus life, users who have come to think that 24x7 wireless connectivity is a right and not a privilege will have zero tolerance for a network that slows markedly during peak usage or becomes unavailable to them, according to Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project.
Fortunately, higher education institutions have a strong foundation upon which to build. The 21st Century Campus Report found that 85 percent of colleges and universities already provide wireless network/Internet access and 72 percent offer remote access to their networks.
However, planning for bandwidth needs should take into account more than just the proliferation of mobile devices. Today’s students regularly engage in bandwidth-intensive activities (including social networking, video-on-demand, video streaming and multimedia) to meet both academic and personal needs.
As Raechelle Clemmons, CIO for Menlo College in California has noted, the notion that “if you build it, they will come” perfectly applies to wireless networks. The more bandwidth an institution makes available, the more users will take advantage of it.
If the wireless access is robust enough, users who have traditionally relied on the wired network to access resources will likely switch to wireless. They also could potentially turn to the campus wireless network for decidedly nonacademic purposes (to watch a movie online during a break between classes, for example).
For this reason, institutions looking to support pervasive BYOD must upgrade their network backbone, add more and better wireless access points to provide dense coverage throughout the campus and adopt a unified threat management (UTM) approach to securing network transmissions.
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Campus IT leaders also should consider the following strategies to ease the burden of more mobile devices accessing the network:
- Practice intelligent wireless management. New advanced management consoles can help institutions proactively manage limited bandwidth by providing a universal view of all devices and access points on the network. These tools also enable the labeling and prioritizing of traffic to better balance the load during peak usage.
- Rethink coverage. Colleges and universities used to concentrate access points in classrooms, libraries, dormitories and other campus hotspots where students congregated to study and socialize. But the ubiquity of mobile devices (especially smartphones) in students’ lives demands anytime, anywhere network connectivity, including in hallways, on bike paths, and in athletic facilities and special-event venues.
- Plan for growth. Any investment in wireless technologies should support a modular approach, says Philippe Hanset, network architect for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Demand for network performance and access will increase exponentially, and campuses must be prepared to add resources as needed.