Author: Jose Vasco, Regional Director, MEMA at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company
Six trends have emerged in the field of higher education this year:
IoT Spreads Institution-Wide – IoT is swiftly expanding beyond student devices. The onslaught ranges from connected lights, door locks and sprinkler systems to laboratory sensors, classroom instruction and student laundry machines, with ever-more introductions in sight.
Everyone Expects Always-on Experiences – All of your campus constituencies expect speedy performance from their devices and apps, enabling them to work, teach and learn seamlessly indoors and out.
Spaces Become Intelligent and Context-Aware – context-aware mobility is about adding intelligence to spaces so that the space interacts with you. For example, when a professor walks into a room, the configuration of equipment and amenities can now adjust automatically to that individual’s profile.
Wearables and Location-Awareness Breathe New Life into Retention Efforts – it’s only a matter of time before institutions begin leveraging data collected from mobile devices and networks as students move about campus.
Virtual Reality in Classrooms Takes Hold – Wider access to commodity virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) innovations is moving the technology out of research labs and into classrooms.
All Environments Will Be Dense – device density isn’t limited to lecture halls anymore, but extends to dorm rooms, cafeterias, sports fields etc.
As mobility and connectivity expectations move beyond the human management abilities in any IT department, much less those in higher education, higher education IT departments will need to adopt more sophisticated and intelligent solutions. These initiatives include:
Automating, not just securing, device connectivity
With device proliferation affecting both performance and security, higher education IT departments will move from self-service onboarding to end-to-end automation of device connectivity and security. Beyond assisting with constrained IT resources, automation is the most effective network defense – for both wireless and wired connectivity – because it denies attackers the time needed to carry out their activities.
The place to start? Establishing device guidelines institution-wide to govern wired, mobile and IoT equipment. While the specific process you employ will be unique to your campus, the important thing is ensuring cross-divisional and cross-functional committee representation.
Use the resulting guidelines to establish connectivity and security policies in IT. Then automate implementation with a robust policy management and access control system capable of operating at scale. If your institution lacks such a system, invest in one this year.
Deploying fast, context-aware Wi-Fi in all environments
To cover all the bases, pursue a robust and cost-effective strategy to ensure your wireless and wired infrastructure covers all the bases.
More institutions will take advantage of Wave 2 802.11ac infrastructure and its performance innovations, including multi-user multiple input and multiple output (MU-MIMO) and four spatial streams (4SS). In a nutshell, Wave 2 access points (APs) can transmit to multiple client devices using different streams, thus increasing network utilization and enabling higher device densities to support quality user experiences.
Advanced indoor and outdoor Wave 2 APs also incorporate the Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology necessary for location-based services. This offers opportunities to maximize hardware deployment budgets versus installing separate BLE gear.
Additionally, adopting multi-gigabit Ethernet edge switches will provide needed immediate performance gains and assist you with network future proofing. Multi-gigabit switches resulted from work by the NBASE-T and MGBASE-T technology alliances, which the IEEE utilized to create the recently released 802.3bz specification.
Essentially, the new specification enables deploying the highest-performance Wave 2 APs over existing Cat 5e/Cat 6 cabling, at a significant savings over re-wiring. Some solutions can even automatically detect and provide the proper connection such as 1, 2.5, 5 or 10GigE.
Predicting network behaviour and enabling intelligent responses
To continue meeting escalating expectations, higher education IT departments will begin deploying management equipment with built-in intelligence to automatically make adjustments as networking requirements shift on a day-to-day basis. Advanced management solutions incorporate machine learning to adjust and optimize the entire network – not just a group of access points or a certain area of campus – which is especially important in dense environments.
In addition to dynamically managing the network, the latest solutions also add the resilience and persistence needed for students, faculty and staff to move seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces while maintaining connectivity throughout. These innovations supply new redundancy technologies to ensure hardware or software outages are completely transparent to end users, even in the highest-performance applications such as video conferencing and Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) calling.
To make networking updates affordable, institutions can continue to use phased and tiered approaches, where use cases match the corresponding equipment. For example, re-deploying your existing Wave 1 802.11ac APs to non-public facilities spaces, where reliability is critical but device density is low, may be sufficient in the short run.
No matter what your institution’s specific situation, you have more mobility options and innovations to choose from than ever before. This makes it an exciting time in mobile connectivity as higher ed organizations can offer their constituencies enhanced capabilities and experiences to improve environments, increase operational efficiencies and help achieve educational outcomes.