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Future Proofing Your Campus Network with 802.11ac

Future Proofing Your Campus Network with 802.11ac

Future Proofing Your Campus Network with 802.11acDavid Raths at the higher education focused publication Campus Technology has an article out on what four colleges and universities are doing to stay ahead of wireless network demand. Those schools’ core strategy: 802.11ac.

In addition to greater overall throughput, Raths writes that 802.11ac has some other benefits versus the older N standard, many of which we have noted in past posts here at Solutions Review:

802.11ac includes wider channels (80 or 160 MHz versus 40 MHz for 802.11n) on the less-crowded 5-GHz band; more spatial streams (up to eight versus four); and higher-order modulation. The 802.11ac spec also introduces a technology to support multiple concurrent downlink transmissions, referred to as “multi-user multiple-input, multiple-output” (MU-MIMO), particularly useful for devices with a limited number of antennas, such as smartphones and tablets, according to IEEE.

Those benefits don’t mean you can just pop in new APs where the old ones used to be, however. Illinois State University, for example, will be slowly implementing a new Aruba Networks wireless network solution over the coming years, and will be using the slow implementation pace to redesign its network to optimize for 802.11ac in many of its buildings and open areas.

Other schools simply have a need for (more) speed. Ohio’s Cedarville University is going with Meru for its high density spaces in order fix the performance problems that have plagued its older network. The results so far are encouraging:

The Christian institution requires daily chapel services for all students, and the room seats more than 3,000 people. “We had nine access points in there. It was woefully underserved,” said David Rotman, associate vice president for technology and CIO. “Part of it was the number of access points, but also their capacity,” he said. Last fall, Cedarville swapped out those nine APs and added 11 more to bring the number to 20, all supporting 802.11ac. Since installing the new APs, the difference has been noticeable, Rotman said. “Previously I had trouble even getting connected,” he recalled. “This morning I did a bandwidth test and was able to draw about 30 megabits per second of bandwidth. I have hit as high as 50 in that room. That is quite a change from having a connection that would be flaky and drop out on me.”

Other schools simply want to stay ahead of the technological grading curve. Future-proofing is what Fresno City College in California and University of North Georgia are about, and a 802.11ac refresh helps them achieve just that. Fresno City College is 2 years into deploying an Aerohive solution, with an end goal of “ubiquitous wireless” throughout campus. UNG is deploying its own Aerohive network as well, including areas where it doesn’t need high-throughput just yet in anticipation of future demand, according to UNG’s Director of Network Services and Telecom, Chris Adams:

UNG has rolled out 802.11ac APs in six major academic buildings across two campuses in its Aerohive-based network. The first deployments were in critical areas identified through problem tickets and anecdotal feedback. But the university is installing the 802.11ac APs even in areas where it doesn’t need the higher throughput quite yet… Having the new equipment in place means the university can add capacity as needed. “We can make the jump to ac speed with a simple configuration change,” Adams said. “If we need to, we can increase those throughputs to the users.”

Being able to rapidly add capability as demand increases should offer UNG a great deal of flexibility when dealing with BYOD and other trends driving increased user demand on networks.

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