Seeing Beyond the Horizon

Five Wi-Fi trends savvy institutions are planning for right now.

GUEST COLUMN | by Christian Gilby

CREDIT Aruba NetworksIt’s no secret that higher education institutions support the most demanding connectivity environments on the planet. In no other industry do users expect quality wireless access at work, in the classroom and at play. However, less well known is what’s just over the Wi-Fi horizon. Let’s consider five trends your institution should start planning for, now.

1) 802.11ac Wave 2 Devices are in the Pipeline

Wave 1 of the 802.11ac standard brought us Gigabit Wi-Fi with data rates of 1.3 Gbps. By contrast, 802.11ac Wave 2 device chipsets are expected to support usable data rates of 1.7 Gbps, with even higher rates after governments open additional frequencies/channels to

In no other industry do users expect quality wireless access at work, in the classroom and at play. 

enable 160MHz channel use. Additionally, Wave 2 permits significantly higher densities by introducing multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). This innovation enables supported access points (APs) to use up to 4×4 antennas and transmit/receive streams, providing an answer to the increasing number of devices per-person.

Since Wave 2’s new features require that client devices have Wave 2 chipsets to see any benefit, Wave 1 APs will remain the Wi-Fi technology mainstay for 2015. Forward-thinking higher education organizations are preparing for the Wave 2 onslaught. Driven by the continuing growth of device densities in lecture halls, student meeting areas and sports facilities, it’s expected that Hi-Ed institutions will lead the way in beginning to deploy Wave 2-enabled wireless infrastructures before the end of the year.

2) Wearables and the IoT are Raising the Wi-Fi Bar

Whether they access WLANs directly or are tethered by Bluetooth to mobiles, Internet of Things (IoT) devices are becoming ubiquitous. In fact, analysts predict the number of connected devices will skyrocket to about 30 billion over the next five years.

Near term, IoT devices are accelerating the demand for 802.11ac APs, which can deliver the performance needed to power wearables and other IoT technologies.

In addition, IoT devices are creating new wireless networking security challenges. Moving forward, your institution will need Wi-Fi security solutions robust enough to provide sufficient protection and flexible enough to enable appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) levels for business-critical real-time IoT devices, such as those used in HVAC systems for classrooms, offices and residence facilities.

As a result, you’ll require advanced firewall technologies and WLAN access management solutions to identify IoT traffic, enforce policies and ensure safe environments for teaching and learning.

3) Online and Hybrid Learning Will Continue Expanding

Regardless of your institution’s size or type, your faculty and staff members – from the youngest to the most tenured – are increasing their embrace of mobile apps and online resources for teaching, learning and administration.

Whether for digital testing, hybrid online/classroom learning or even back-office accounting, the demands on your wireless infrastructure are growing as #GenMobile users increasingly populate higher education environments. #GenMobile are the new breed of technology users defined by their strong preference for mobility.

Unsurprisingly, this trend is fundamentally changing wireless network design. Where coverage was once the goal, capacity and density are increasingly the gold standards. Although many larger institutions are well along this new architectural path, the shift is occurring across the size spectrum.

4) Accelerating User Expectations

Everyone in higher education knows that prospective students, and even businesses seeking partnerships for educating workers, are now considering the quality of Wi-Fi experiences within their decision-making matrix. As a result, higher education institutions are seeking tools to speed onboarding and efficiently manage the expanding number of device types, all while keeping users secure.

Centralized, enterprise management tools enable your IT staff to remain lean by automating access, policy enforcement and other wireless administration tasks. Also, modern management tools can supply you with granular troubleshooting and reporting functions, including device-level drill-down capabilities.

What’s more, available management tools include vendor agnostic and cloud-delivered options. The former enables your organization to choose the right software solution, regardless of hardware infrastructure.

Similarly, cloud-based options provide flexibility by supplying the same robust capabilities as on-premise solutions while freeing your institution from investing in, and maintaining, such systems. In addition, cloud-based solutions enable improved resource forecasting as they move significant technology costs from capital to operating budgets.

5) Leveraging Wi-Fi as a Revenue Stream

Not surprisingly, high-performance Wi-Fi networks are a magnet for guest users. Leading higher education organizations are turning this reality into an opportunity to generate revenue from non-enrolled students. For example, professionals gaining certifications, taking management courses or pursuing a host of other continuing education requirements are being charged a nominal fee to utilize an institution’s wireless network.

To take this path, you’ll not only require a secure guest network that is separate from the internal network, but also the management capabilities for integrating Wi-Fi infrastructure with accounting, billing and chargeback systems. Such sophisticated tools are already assisting real-world institutions, including a large, prominent California-based university, with recovering modern WLAN costs.

Although the impact horizon for each of these trends will vary by institution, there’s no doubt you’ll feel the force. And, it may be sooner rather than later. That’s why savvy higher education leaders are ensuring they dedicate resources to exploring options and creating action plans now.

Christian Gilby is a Director of Product Marketing at Aruba Networks with primary responsibility for developing and executing Aruba’s Mobile, Wired and Wireless strategies. Christian has approximately 20 years of industry experience and holds a U.S. patent in authentication of caller identification. He has also served in marketing, engineering and senior product line management positions at Agito Networks, Meru Networks, Nortel and ShoreTel. Christian holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Victoria in Canada.

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