Higher Education Institutions Prepare for Wi-Fi 6

Three higher education institutions are already getting ready for Wi-Fi 6.

The classrooms, libraries, and stadiums of the future offer endless possibilities. Today, we see students mainly carrying only laptops and smartphones with them to college and university campuses. But tomorrow? We will see students with as many as 10 devices on them at all times as they work, learn, and collaborate everywhere on campus. And if that wasn’t enough, more IoT and high-bandwidth devices are being incorporated into campus plans for smart lighting, smart parking, security, immersive learning, and more. Because of this, the number of devices hitting the network and the amount of bandwidth they need will exponentially increase. Are higher education leaders ready for this drastic shift?

Many higher education institutions today are already preparing for what the future of technology will bring. Wi-Fi 6, the latest wireless standard, not only promises to bring higher density, throughput, and reliability to higher education networks, but also ensures that students and staff can focus on collaborating and learning, rather than losing connections or having technology troubles.

Identifying where bandwidth problems already exist, learning what the new standards offer, and thinking through a Wi-Fi 6 strategy are great first steps. With bandwidth requirements approximately doubling every three years, in addition to serving inherently high-density environments, the Butler University IT team has had a constant challenge to provide always-on, reliable connections for students and staff. For example, each large lecture hall currently has three 802.11ac wave 2 access points (APs) to accommodate around 100 students. But with several large lecture halls right next to each other, the APs end up cannibalizing each other. Michael Denny, Network and Security Architect at Butler University, explains, “By deploying a Wi-Fi 6 AP, we hope to have a single AP that can handle all of the students load at the same time without needing as many APs to accomplish the same job.”

But it’s not just about supporting the students of today, it’s preparing for the lecture halls of tomorrow. Pete Williams, Associate Vice President of IT and Chief Information Officer at Butler University, highlighted, “Classroom requirements are changing. Just take a look at 4K, VR, AR, and the capabilities and the requirements they’re going to drive from a throughput perspective. We believe that Wi-Fi 6 is going to help us meet that need.”

At Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC), their new Meraki Wi-Fi 6 APs not only provide better connections for students and staff, but prepare them for the increasing number of IoT devices they predict will hit the network. Over the last year, the PPCC IT team has received a dramatic increase in requests to implement more technologies on campus to improve student experiences. Wireless door locks, medical devices, AR/VR, Apple TVs, security cameras, and other devices continue to be added to the wireless network. With Meraki Wi-Fi 6 APs, PPCC is ready for this increase in IoT devices, while being able to do more with less hardware. Cyrille Parent, CTO at PPCC, explained, “We’re able to actually cover more ground with the new Meraki Wi-Fi 6 access points than with previous technology, which will provide a better experience for students and faculty.”

Soon, higher education institutions will need to make a choice: To support the increasing number of student and IoT devices by either deploying more 802.11ac Wave 2 APs and turning down the bandwidth on each to minimize interference, or by deploying a smaller number of 802.11ax APs.

Albany State University (ASU) chose to embrace the new standard and has less APs with better performance by deploying Wi-Fi 6 compatible Meraki MR55 APs. Students noticed an immediate difference. With APs deployed in the student union, housing common rooms, and gaming areas, students could tell that the internet no longer slowed down, even when at capacity in these high-density areas, allowing them to watch videos, stream music, and use social media with their friends, all at the same time. Noore Ghunaym, Director of Infrastructure, added, “Students have a much faster experience. They can watch videos, have their headphones in, stream music, snap — they’re able to do all the things that college kids do. Wi-Fi 6 helps us meet those throughput and speed challenges and allows us to scale our network accordingly.”

Meraki cloud-managed Wi-Fi 6 compatible access points raise the bar for wireless performance and efficiency in higher education and beyond. Designed for next-generation deployments, with high throughput and enterprise-grade security, higher education IT teams can experience easy deployments, central management, intelligent troubleshooting, and greater scalability. As bandwidth requirements and the number of devices continues to increase, higher education institutions will need to be ready for whatever technology comes their way. To learn more about how higher education institutions are deploying Wi-Fi 6 and embracing new technology, watch this on demand webinar with Albany State University.