It doesn’t matter if you’re the IT manager of a private college, large public university or smaller community college, every day is a challenge to support your student’s and faculty’s Wi-Fi needs and expectations. Campus IT departments are in charge of a very complex ecosystem where they're in a constant struggle to manage increasing device numbers and mission critical applications.
It's not just the increasing numbers of connected devices that's causing wifi performance issues but also the types of applications being used.
From streaming video, video calling, VoIP, social apps and online gaming, prioritizing your available bandwidth has become critical to maximizing your Wi-Fi performance.
To help you support your user's increasing demands and make the most of what you already have in place, here are 3 ways you can optimize your network’s current available bandwidth to boost Wi-Fi performance.
Creating and Enforcing Policies
Always-on, always available connectivity requires visibility and control, especially when it comes to providing a consistent wireless experience.
While the learning environments (academic buildings) are the obvious first place you have to have rules in place to prioritize bandwidth, the second are the lifestyle environments (student housing etc).
You need to have the ability to create and enforce rules that properly manages the available bandwidth for your mission critical apps vs. your recreational applications.
Your conditions for prioritizing service could be by time, location, type of application, user-role and device type.
For example, you could limit applications like Netflix to a set amount of available bandwidth during peak hours, say 7am-7pm and then open it up to unlimited availability from 7pm-7am.
This would allow you to ensure your mission critical applications like online testing wouldn’t be at risk from crashing because other students are trying to binge watch The Walking Dead.
The Importance of Caching
This is a simple concept but one that is incredibly powerful. Imagine you are going to have your students stream a YouTube video in class, caching allows you to save and store that data so each student doesn’t have to load that video as if it were new.
Caching will significantly reduce the time it takes to access web content since it doesn’t have to be pulled from the original servers and consequently reduces the traffic on your network.
All of the data that is stored is put into a big loop with the newer information at the front and the older content eventually rotating towards the back until it’s finally not being stored anymore. This is based on policies that determine how long data is stored.
Knowing Your Devices and Applications
Students attending college today bring with them an average of 7 devices. If you do the math, even on a smaller campus that equals a lot of demand and a lot of devices to sufficiently support.
Bandwidth shaping or traffic shaping are great ways to manage the performance of you campus WLAN. However, your efforts really start with your wireless network design.
Two of the most critical components of your WLAN design are properly planning for the devices and applications that will require access to the network.
This is not something that should be addressed after the fact. Too many times have we seen colleges and universities get themselves into trouble because they failed to account for their devices and applications during the WiFi engineering process.
You have to know what types of devices will be running on your network, where they will be used, what applications they will be running and what requirements both have to operate correctly.
This information needs to be addresses during the predictive RF design stage of the process, where an experienced network engineer can make the necessary adjustments as you design a new network, update an existing one or prepare to introduce or allow new devices/applications onto your network.
The nature of wireless can make it difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing your wifi problems. In addition to having the right RF design, you can also troubleshoot your Wi-Fi performance using application performance testing.
An application performance test is a unique assessment that looks at wifi performance from the point of view of the device or application. You can run what-if scenarios and simulate how your devices and applications actually function while on the network.
This is a great way to get real-world results to make the required adjustments to your performance.
Making sure everyone gets a consistent wireless experience means integrating the right strategy and management tools into your campus wifi network. Bandwidth is an important part of your overall wireless platform, however, it's not everything and just buying more won't always solve your wifi problems.
Next time you're having wifi problems make sure you don't forget you have a lot of other options available than just buying a bigger a pipe.