By Richard Nedwich, global director of education at Ruckus Wireless
We can all see how prolific wireless communications are across the globe. Not only is mobile data traffic in 2020 expected to be six times higher than in 2015 [European Commission], but at-home wireless connectivity has become a utility, like switching the lights on.
These high expectations are filtering into every corner of our lifestyles, and higher education is no exception. When the lights go out and wireless connectivity doesn’t make the grade, educational institutions can be faced with unforgiving students and parents who expect the best from the system they’re paying for.
How does this at-home wireless expectation truly impact our schools, colleges, and universities? What should heads of IT purposefully look to address?
The true cost of connectivity
According to the Times Higher Education’s (THE) World University Rankings, Britain is one of the most expensive places to get an education, with an annual cost of £21,000, ranking in 25th position out of 29 nations, behind only the US, Singapore, South Korea and Australia. This headline grabbing stat means that students, more than ever, want to get their money’s worth and competition to attract students is higher than ever before. One way institutions can step up is to deliver state of the art facilities, including seamless Wi-Fi on campus, in halls of residence and in lecture theatres.
The European Commission’s study found that for 15 to 24 year olds, mobile internet is the second highest ranked important communications service after standard mobile telephony (62%). On top of this, quality of service (at 70% of respondents) is a top need when using such a service.
So, when the wireless doesn’t work under high capacity on university grounds, it’s the outcry from the students themselves that the IT department need to listen to. A bad reputation amongst the Wi-Fi users that matter the most can spread like wildfire on social media. And not having the state of the art offerings that other universities in this highly competitive marketplace have is ultimately bad news for attracting students with tuition fees in their pockets.
Focusing on user experience
On top of general capacity and connectivity drop out issues, a focus on the user experience is essential in terms of addressing quality of service expectations effectively. Students expect to connect on any device and open any application at any time. This goes for certifications accessing the wireless network through any device a student may bring onto the premises.
Password-based networks experience high rates of user disruption. Disconnected devices try to connect back to the network as many as 30,000 authentication requests per day per student, so you simply can’t afford to have that.
Using a certificate-based Wi-Fi system works best and will improve the user experience significantly. Certificates mean that passwords are not cached or transmitted every connection attempt. In essence, a device registered once should continue to work without disruption. This means happier users and fewer support tickets for IT teams.
Wimpy wireless fights capacity trends
Many of the world’s most venerable and historic institutions understandably will be dealing with old network infrastructures which simply aren’t up to the increase in mobile internet traffic. Not only is the sheer numbers of users an issue, but students have embarked on new digital trends like live streaming, accessing social networks and connecting with their fellow students on instant messenger groups.
All of this activity is data download intensive and can lead to major downtime and buffering which impedes the students’ experience of accessing the wireless network. And the vicious cycle of the bad wireless reputation can begin again since they can do all of this at home really easily.
Back to the future
Today’s students are used to using interactive whiteboards, smart phones, tablets and assessment apps in the classroom from primary school and can often be faced with a bit of a shock when a university lecturer gets their chalk out in the lecture theatre. Institutions need to be aware that high quality Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury; it has been a fundamental part of students’ lives throughout their education.
High performance wireless network connectivity addresses all of these expectations and speaks volumes about how well an institution can address its student population’s educational needs. IT professionals need to futureproof their networks to ‘switch the light on’ for the next generation of students, proving them with instant, seamless access that’s in line with at-home utilities.
Ruckus Wireless is a global supplier of advanced wireless systems for the rapidly expanding mobile internet infrastructure market.