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Increased Strain on Higher Ed Campus Wireless Networks – Is 802.11ac the Answer?

Future Proofing Your Campus Network with 802.11ac

Mobile Devices on College Campus _ Wireless ACInformation-technology departments at college campuses nationwide have struggled to maintain and upgrade their wireless-network capacities.  With the substantial increase of wireless device ownership particularly for traditional college-age students, chief information officers at colleges and universities have grappled with how to increase wireless capacity.  Bruce Maas, the CIO at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, estimates there are 100,000 mobile devices being carried by students at the university.

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has created a unique environment at institutions of higher education.  At a number of college campuses, student and faculty usage of personal, internet-capable wireless devices has strained campus networks.  Network capacity is even more strained in large lecture halls and athletic venues.  “An increase in the number of devices is only part of the problem.  As the devices get more advanced, they eat up more bandwidth.  The original iPhone, for example, wasn’t capable of sending picture messages,” wrote Carl Straumsheim, in a September 5, 2013 Inside Higher Ed article.  On campuses that host well attended football games, wireless networks are heavily used because of the increased amount of people on campus trying to access the network with their smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

“The proliferation of personal, Internet-capable devices on college campuses also adds a new wrinkle to already complex information-security concerns,” wrote Megan O’Neil in an October 14, 2013 article about the increased usage of wireless devices on college campuses.  O’Neil’s article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The increased usage and accessibility of wireless devices on college campuses is part of a wider trend regarding mobile device ownership.  As of May 2013, 56 percent of American adults owned a smartphone, according to research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  Earlier this year, Educause – an education-technology organization, conducted a mobile device survey among undergraduate students.  The survey indicated that 76 percent of undergraduates said they owned a smartphone.  58 percent of undergraduates said they owned at least three Internet-capable devices.

Privacy Challenges

As centers for the creation and dissemination of knowledge, academic institutions have an obligation to be collaborative and transparent.  However, there are security risks to transparency.  Moving forward, how will institutions of higher education find the right balance between allowing efficient and safe wireless-network access and protecting user information?

If networks are not properly secured data can be lost or stolen.  Bank-account information, user names and passwords, and other personal data of students and faculty can be comprised if networks are not adequately protected.  This is a growing challenge for campus IT departments.

Click here to read the full piece and for more on how University and College campuses are handling increased strain on their wireless networks.

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