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Upgrading Your Campus WiFi Network: A Crash Course on How to Get Started

Retention and recruitment are more than just alliterative buzzwords for college and university leaders. Combined, they are the lifeblood of a school’s long-term success and survival. And many higher-ed leaders are realizing that technology (WiFi included) is not only becoming a mission-critical service but also the special sauce that makes their campus experience stand out from other schools, delighting students and bolstering retention and recruitment efforts.

In a previous blog post, we touched on the enrollment challenges schools are currently facing and their subsequent efforts to revamp their technology services to improve the entire campus experience, from teaching and learning to research and social life (dorms, stadiums, and student common areas).

To accommodate these new initiatives, schools of all shapes and sizes are upgrading their WiFi networks. This is an overwhelmingly positive trend and a smart move (in our opinion). However, today's campus environments pose unique challenges that need to be considered at the earliest stages of the WiFi planning process.

In the blog below, we’ll cover what these challenges are and how you should start planning your WiFi upgrades to successfully address each one.

Today’s Campus WiFi Challenges

Increasing numbers of devices

A little over ten years ago, college freshman showed up on campus with maybe one laptop, and it would typically connect to the campus intranet via a long blue cord.

Fast-forward to today, and college students between the ages of 18–34 own an average of seven devices according to the College Explorer Study from re:fuel and Crux Research.

These types of numbers are almost impossible for campus wifi networks to adequately support because most were not built to handle this type of density and usage.

Types of devices and applications

The IoT boom is real, and college campuses are no exception. You might find the following devices and applications (and more) on college campuses today:

  • Laptops
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Wearables
  • Centralized heating/cooling management
  • Smart vending machines
  • Door locks in the dorms and classrooms
  • Connected campus safety alert systems
  • Interactive laundry rooms that allows students to go online to check if washers and dryers are available in specific laundry rooms, use their student ID or PIN code to pay for the wash and dry cycles, and receive notifications that their wash and dry cycles are complete.
  • Accounting systems
  • Online testing
  • Learning management systems
  • Admin systems
  • Gaming and social apps

The bottom line is that instead of just laptops and smartphones, college campuses are an ever-growing ecosystem of connected devices and cloud-based applications. This means there are more entry points for security breaches and more mission-critical systems that rely on WiFi, so when the network goes down, the school goes down.

Ownership of devices

In the old days, the school owned all of the connected technology (think rows of wired desktops in the campus computer lab or laptops issued to faculty and other staff).

But today’s users are bringing their own devices to school (BYOD) and accessing the network, which raises serious security concerns from no longer owning what’s on your network. Two of the main questions that need answered are:

  • How do you identify who is accessing your network and what they’re using it for?
  • How do you onboard those users/devices?

End user expectations

Today’s college students can’t conceive of the pre-Internet era or a time before smartphones.

They use technology for everything and don’t have patience for challenges like “spotty coverage” or “slow wifi performance.”

They want to use their devices in the classrooms, labs, dorms, stadiums, student unions, and cafeterias. And they will bring their tuition dollars to a campus that has the technology and the WiFi to support their expectations.

Rest assured, these higher-ed hurdles aren’t insurmountable. With the right WiFi design, you can provide a reliable and secure wifi experience on your campus that meets the academic, social, and lifestyle needs of today’s students and will help boost future enrollment.

To get started towards accomplishing your technology and enrollment goals, you need the right WiFi design. We can’t overstate its importance. For colleges and universities there are two crucial steps: first a predictive design, then an on-site wifi survey.

Predictive Design

At SecurEdge, we employ an extremely thorough, multi-step process, using the latest (and frankly, expensive) predictive RF design software, combined with a ton of our own data, to create a detailed and accurate predictive RF design.

predictive-rf-design-example

We begin by providing the software with as much information as we can about every area where wifi will be deployed (floor plans, dimensions, building materials of walls and ceilings) and any elements that would cause RF interference.

We also take into account the number and types of devices you hope to support, and the applications they will be running; on a college campus, for example, there would be lots of email, social media, video streaming, and interactive learning software.

Every environment is different, and as we discussed above, campus WiFi designs come with their own unique challenges. We load all of these variables into our software and come up with a predictive design that we can then test and adjust when we do our on-site wireless site survey.

Wireless Site Survey

We find our predictive designs to be highly accurate, but because college campuses are especially complex environments, we’ll always recommend to validate our design with an on-site wireless site survey. Physically visiting your campus allows us to make real-world adjustments to our design to get it as close to 100% accuracy as possible.

Once we’ve completed our on-site wifi survey and verified our design for your network, we’ll be able to present you with a bill of materials and how it will need to be configured for optimal performance.

Our two-step process of predictive RF design and an on-site wifi survey to verify that design is intentionally thorough. We believe—because we’ve seen it time and again—that taking shortcuts in the design process will lead to poor wifi performance, which will end up costing you way more money to fix in the long run.

Caution: Do Not Attempt

Speaking of shortcuts, it might be tempting to ask your in-house IT team to engineer a wireless network design for your campus, but we would offer a word of caution here.

You’ll be far more successful in providing secure WiFi if you partner with wireless engineering experts. It’s unlikely you have someone on staff with the necessary training and certifications in wireless to properly design the type of network you need.

And it would be very costly—both financially and timewise—for you to secure that training for your staff members.

Colleges and universities partner with SecurEdge because they know that when it comes to WiFi and providing the technology systems they need to stand out from other schools, the stakes are too high to get the design wrong.

When you partner with us, our certified wifi services experts will create a highly informed, highly accurate design to provide the experience your students and faculty expect to receive.

If you’re not sure where to begin or have questions about your current WiFi design, contact us here. We’d be happy to help you get started.


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Dana Adams

Dana Adams

Dana Adams blogs regularly for SecurEdge and other tech companies. She believes technology should serve people, not the other way around. When she's not blogging, you'll find her enjoying the outdoors with her family and two rescue dogs.

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