From move-in day to graduation day, students require reliable Wi-Fi to be successful. Not only does Wi-Fi enable effective collaboration and creativity, but it can also be a driver to attract and retain students and faculty to campus. As the need for seamless connectivity on college and university campuses continues to expand, are schools measuring up to student expectations? We wanted to find out.
In partnership with the Center for Digital Education, Cisco Meraki conducted two surveys, one of higher education decision-makers and one of college students — to better understand students’ habits and needs regarding network use and technology and how that compares to what their counterparts in leadership perceive. We asked almost identical questions of these two audiences and compared the results.
The results were fascinating. While the full survey report outlines many interesting findings, three key things stood out that warranted further analysis:
1. Students aren’t utilizing campus to its full potential because of unreliable Wi-Fi
We asked students where they complete their school work and use Wi-Fi the most. We then asked higher education leaders where they think students complete their school work and use the Wi-Fi the most. Both audiences were also asked how reliable they thought the Wi-Fi was in those areas. Surprisingly, the study showed a large discrepancy between the students actual Wi-Fi use and the leaders perception of what the students use. While the vast majority of students ranked the school library, on campus housing, and off-campus housing as the top three locations to work and use Wi-Fi, the leaders listed study rooms and dining/common areas as primary student work locations. Why aren’t students completing school work and using Wi-Fi in all of the areas leadership thinks they are?
When asked how reliable the Wi-Fi was in the same locations, the discrepancy was shocking. In every location highlighted, more than half of leaders thought Wi-Fi was very reliable, yet less than 25% of students thought so (with the exception of the library). More specifically, 40% of leadership versus 22% of students think Wi-Fi is highly reliable in dorms and 42% of leadership think Wi-Fi is somewhat reliable outdoors, while 57% of students say there is no outdoor Wi-Fi. To top it off, when students were asked “What technology would you like to see your campus provide to enhance the student experience?” the top answer, getting 54% of the responses, was reliable Wi-Fi.
While students want to seamlessly roam from their dorm room, to class, to the outdoor quad and have reliable connections in order to socialize and work, this isn’t being provided to the standard students expect. In order to provide the best experience for students, reliable Wi-Fi everywhere on campus is key.
2. While Wi-Fi is important, schools can’t forget about the wired network
Students are bringing more and more wireless devices with them to campus, especially when they live in dorms. On average, students who live on campus bring 9 devices with them to school, while those who commute bring an average of 3. The survey showed that students and higher education leaders were aligned on the top two devices students bring to campus (laptops and smartphones), but the third device was surprising. For students living on campus, 43% bring a desktop computer, a large difference from the 18% predicted by education leaders. Instead, leadership overestimated students bringing other wireless technologies, like tablets, video game consoles, and smart watches.
While the number of wireless technologies students bring to school will continue to increase, schools can’t forget about the wired network. Students still demand a wired connection, especially in their dorm rooms. Plus, a reliable network backbone is key to supporting high-density wireless access points everywhere on campus. Ensuring the underlying wired network is ready for what students will throw at it is just as important as the wireless.
3. Improving campus Wi-Fi can greatly reduce the number of help desk tickets
Students on average submit 11 help desk tickets per year, on par with higher education leaders’ estimations of 13 tickets a year. This means that students are submitting help desk tickets around once a month, and when you multiply that by the number of students, the amount of tickets is staggering. It’s no surprise that students and leaders agree that most tickets are submitted when the Wi-Fi goes down.
By providing always-on connections, students will complain less about the Wi-Fi and in turn, submit less tickets. This not only saves on IT resources, but gives those teams time back in their day to work on more proactive and impactful projects that can benefit the university.
Overall, the surveys found that students want to see reliable Wi-Fi on campus to enhance their experience, and they are not getting the always-on connection higher education leaders believe they’re providing. But it’s not too late to turn this around – higher education institutions can start by evaluating solutions that provide the access students deserve, while being easier for the IT team to set up and manage.
Step anywhere on Butler University’s campus and you’ll see students swaying in hammocks in the outdoor quad, collaborating in large lecture halls, and cheering on the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse, all with a cell phone or laptop in hand. Butler was founded on the idea that everyone deserves access to a quality education, so it’s no surprise that the University’s leaders strive to provide equal access to all students and faculty by supplying campus-wide Wi-Fi. With more than 1,300 Cisco Meraki indoor and outdoor access points (APs) deployed across the campus, students can seamlessly connect wherever they are with no interruption to their education. The wireless upgrade also provided many unforeseen benefits to the IT team, directly impacting how they spend their time to improve everyday student life including ease of deployment, providing reliable connections, and gaining access to actionable insights.
Connecting 100,000 devices with the cloud-managed Wi-Fi
To the IT team’s surprise, the group who installed the cloud-managed access points didn’t need to have deep technical knowledge. The team deploying the APs comprised of both full-time IT staff and student workers, who together were able to deploy all 1,300+ APs across the campus in less than two weeks. This was made possible because of the cloud-managed Meraki dashboard, which allowed IT to preconfigure the devices before they arrived. They also used configuration templates, allowing the team to apply the same configuration to hundreds of devices and install them for immediate use. This enabled the student workers to simply plug the devices in and they were ready for use. In the last year since the deployment, over 100,000 devices have traversed the network, which has worked seamlessly for users.
High density with automated assurance
Once the deployment was complete, it was immediately apparent that connections were more reliable, there was better coverage, and more robust troubleshooting tools were available for faster time to resolution. Students now have the same experience using their laptops in their dorm room as they do in the outdoor quad, ensuring they can stay connected no matter where they are on campus. With higher density APs, the IT team has seen hundreds of students seamlessly connect in a lecture hall and use the devices they need to without issue. They can also see where the most bandwidth is being used and on what application, and can limit the amount of bandwidth certain applications or devices are using to improve connection reliability and speed across campus. Instead of acting reactively to issues affecting the wireless network or running complicated scripts to verify wireless performance, the IT team now uses automated assurance with MerakiWireless Health. They can quickly see the number of failed connections, obtain automated performance metrics, and provide root cause analysis of client connection issues. Different wireless needs exist across various environments on campus, including lecture halls, dorm rooms, stadiums, and outdoor spaces, and it was traditionally challenging to meet their different configuration needs. With Meraki, the IT team was able to create pre-defined and customizable RF Profiles to apply RF settings across all of their diverse environments.
The network as a platform
While providing reliable wireless access was the original IT team’s goal with their AP deployment, they quickly realized there was so much more they could do with their new solution. The information and tools already made available in the Meraki dashboard can inform how to design the campus moving forward, help improve student safety, allow them to personalize student experiences, and more. With Bluetooth beacons, they can send personalized communications to students that are connected to an AP in the dining hall, student center, or science building. By leveraging the Meraki API, they can pull data out of the dashboard and use it in other systems and tools to continue improving the student experience. With the vast amounts of data available at their fingertips, the IT team is continuing to explore new ways to take advantage of these insights and apply them to the University going forward.
Butler University is a pioneer in deploying innovative technology in the higher education industry. To learn why they chose Meraki wireless, how they were able to complete their deployment so quickly, how they leverage non-technical staff to manage and troubleshoot the network, and how they are thinking about using wireless data to do more than just provide access, watch the on demand webinar. Peter Williams, Associate Vice President of IT and Chief Information Officer, and Michael Denny, Network and Security Architect, at Butler University walk us through their Meraki deployment, including a live demo of their Meraki dashboard. Watch now.
Over the last 25 years, the cost of a college education has increased nearly eight times faster than the average U.S. wage. Therefore, it’s no surprise that student loans make up the largest amount of U.S. non-housing debt. This higher education cost shift has left many students with the tough task of finding a quality education without breaking the bank.
While this may be daunting to any hopeful college student, not all hope is lost. Some schools across the U.S. are determined to give students a high-quality, affordable education, regardless of their background. One such example is the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP), which aims to change lives through education by offering students exceptional and affordable college experiences. As an NC Promise campus, UNCP offers students in-state tuition of $500 per semester and out-of-state tuition at $2,500 a semester, ensuring that all students have access to great education that they can afford.While cost is a very important factor, UNCP knows it is only one piece of the puzzle when striving to provide the best college experiences for students. The next step is to provide the best technology solutions to support learning everywhere on campus.
To better meet student expectations, Kevin Pait, Interim CIO and Associate Vice Chancellor (AVC) for IT, and his 5 person IT team deployed 700+ Cisco Meraki MR access points across the UNCP campus. This provides three main benefits for the school:
Improve Student Connections
“Since deploying Meraki in the residence halls and academic buildings, I never hear complaints. Right out of the gate, the student experience was excellent and our support tickets really dropped.” – Kevin Pait
With access points deployed in academic buildings, dorm rooms, common spaces, and outside, students have reliable, seamless coverage everywhere they go on campus. This has dramatically reduced the number of help desk tickets and complaints from students, and illustrates how much the Wi-Fi has improved since switching to Meraki. This enables students to focus on learning and collaborating, rather than using their time to troubleshoot access issues.
Save Time and Resources
“Meraki is simple. You’ve got the analytics, troubleshooting, errors, all of those things in the dashboard that have really helped to simplify system administration.” – Kevin Pait
With a cloud-managed wireless solution, the UNCP IT team was able to greatly simplify the wireless deployment and dramatically reduce the amount of time they spend on day-to-day network management and troubleshooting. This has saved the IT team countless hours, freeing up their time to focus on more impactful projects such as using data and analytics to inform decisions in other business units and make adjustments across the academic and residential departments.
Identify New Opportunities
“At the beginning we were really focused on what Meraki could do in terms of the infrastructure and the ease of management, maintenance and operations. But it’s just really opened up another world of opportunity.” – Kevin Pait
Now that the school has a reliable wireless solution in place, Kevin and the IT team can spend more time building new solutions and experiences for students. With increased network visibility, access to analytics, and a customizable platform, there are endless possibilities for the school to continue enhancing the technology experience for their students and employees on campus.
Today, UNCP uses Cisco networking, security, VoIP, collaboration, and wireless to provide an outstanding education for all students. To learn more about UNCP, watch the video and read their story.
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.
Today, the need for higher density, higher throughput and higher capacity are critical to wireless networks. These are the things that everyone wants from their wireless network–especially schools. These are the promises of Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 (known in more technical terms as 802.11ax) is the latest emerging wireless standard, offering several new improvements to make it the highest performing set of wireless protocols to date. Not only will Wi-Fi 6 boost overall performance on paper, but it is specifically designed to perform efficiently in real-world scenarios that Wi-Fi currently struggles in, such as when 25 students all hop on the classroom Wi-Fi at the same time. This allows end users to experience always-on connectivity without bottlenecks or performance degradation.
While every industry can benefit from the promises of Wi-Fi 6, one in particular is ready to benefit from this change: education. While most of us remember those school days spent searching through binders of papers, sharpening pencils in the middle of a test, and carrying heavy books from class to class, classrooms of today are transforming into central hubs of technology innovation and experimentation around the world. This shift has led to the need for secure and persistent Wi-Fi.
So what challenges will Wi-Fi 6 help the schools of tomorrow solve?
With an expected 50% increase in networked devices per person by 2020, equivalent to about 3.6 connected devices per person, schools are in for more of a bandwidth challenge than most. Additionally, more schools are deploying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to increase school safety, improve operations and save costs. Together, this changes the requirements for many school networks. Traditionally, schools would add more access points to high density areas to try and combat reliability issues, but this has been found to cause congestion with overlapping signals. Plus, just having connections in classrooms is no longer enough; high density access points will be required everywhere on school grounds in order to accommodate students roaming with several mobile devices and wireless IoT devices.
Who are the first people to generally test out new technologies? Students. As a result, school networks are the first to handle hundreds of new devices at the same time. Not only are Wi-Fi 6-supported mobile devices already hitting the network, but the traffic per smartphone is expected to grow 10x by 2022. And if that isn’t enough, bandwidth-intensive video is expected to grow from 3% of all IP traffic in 2017 to 22% in 2022, already challenging networks with high throughput demands. To top it all off, 8K streaming is just on the horizon (and we know students will pick the highest streaming video quality they can!).
In the classroom, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), collaboration applications and other bandwidth-intensive technologies are already starting to provide a more immersive learning experience. With teachers already using video and other wireless technologies for instruction, having higher throughput will ensure learning goes on uninterrupted and teachers have more freedom to bring new capabilities into the classroom.
All this change will come faster than you think. For Jaymon Lefebvre, Director of IT Services at Wild Rose School Division (WRSD), the rapid increase in student and IoT devices poses unique networking obstacles for the district to overcome. As a rural school district in Alberta, Canada, WRSD has many students who don’t have Wi-Fi access at home. Therefore, WRSD is not only accommodating devices for learning, but also students’ personal devices, which they use to download content and homework while at school so they can continue using their devices at home.
Additionally, learning no longer just takes place in the classroom. At any given time, students are learning wherever they go, using high-bandwidth applications in the hallways and outside. Teachers are starting to use tiny, single-board computers more regularly, like Raspberry Pis and VR headsets for instruction. With up to 30 students per classroom, each with several devices, Lefebvre’s team wants to make sure there are no limitations to new and creative learning techniques.
The IT team has started deploying Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs to continue supporting the current technologies used by students and staff, while still getting classrooms ready to support new technologies. The Wi-Fi 6 APs not only provide higher density and throughput to support students and staff, but also enable the team to support over 15,000 wireless devices and focus on providing better experiences for the school division.
In the face of a new digital era, reliable connections allow students at WRSD to have the same learning experience as kids anywhere in the world, opening up new opportunities that were not possible before. To learn more about WRSD and how they are using Wi-Fi 6, watch the on demand webinar.
The 802.11 wireless standard has come a long way since the Meraki founders started a 2003 project to offer 802.11b/g mesh networking technology at their MIT university campus. In those days, 4G LTE, social media applications, iPhones, iPads, streaming music, YouTube, and AWS did not exist. Today, technologies like self-driving cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and 5G cellular networks are all on the verge of going mainstream.
The new 802.11ax amendment, also known as Wi-Fi 6, will help usher in new wireless technologies by providing higher throughput, higher density, and overall higher efficiency. While the 802.11ac standard gave us immense throughput improvements, Wi-Fi 6 hopes to improve the average throughput per user by a factor of four in dense environments. Wi-Fi 6 will achieve these improvements using technologies such as OFDMA (Downlink and Uplink), MU-MIMO (Downlink and Uplink), 1024 QAM and BSS Color.
The new MR45 and MR55 access points that we just announced are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. Sure, they are screaming fast on paper, but with the efficient technologies incorporated in the Wi-Fi 6 amendment, they also improve the performance of real-world wireless networks. Take a look at a few of the highlights below:
8×8 with MU-MIMO and OFDMA and 1G/2.5G/5G Ethernet
5.9 Gbps maximum data rate
2.4 GHz and 5 GHz operation
Support for MCS Rates 10 & 11
Sleek “vessel” design
PoE+ requires 802.3at compliance
4×4 with MU-MIMO and OFDMA and 1G/2.5G Ethernet
3.5 Gbps maximum data rate
2.4 GHz and 5 GHz operation
Support for MCS Rates 10 & 11
Sleek “vessel” design
PoE+ requires 802.3at compliance
Meraki continues to set the standard of access point performance and management simplicity with Meraki dashboard and Wireless Health. However, the exceptional efficiency-improving benefits come in when adding on new Wi-Fi 6 technologies.
OFDMA is technology adopted from cellular standards, and perhaps the most important feature of Wi-Fi 6. With OFDMA, an MR45 or MR55 can package up different types of traffic from wireless clients with varying bandwidth requirements and send them all at the same time, rather than sending these packets separately. Imagine a game of Tetris, with different shapes representing VoIP traffic, Twitter traffic, and IoT traffic, all neatly packaged into a single transmission. Sounds efficient!
BSS Coloring is one of the improvements that helps Wi-Fi 6 enabled products operate efficiently in dense environments. It helps reduce medium contention by adding a simple color bit to help differentiate between overlapping radios. The analogy here is that an AP can put on a pair of filtered glasses that allows it to ignore frames being sent that are associated with a different color, or radio.
MU-MIMO was introduced with 802.11ac (or Wi-Fi 5), allowing multiple clients to be addressed simultaneously. When combined with OFDMA, MU-MIMO APs become more powerful by gaining the ability to serve multiple users and multiple bandwidth needs of those clients.
Re-introduction of 2.4 GHz provides additional spectrum that can be used for outdoor use cases or IoT applications. Wi-Fi 5 did not utilize the 2.4 GHz spectrum, but with OFDMA and MU-MIMO, Wi-Fi 6 hopes to unlock the full potential of the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum by enabling more efficient performance.
1024 QAM is a new modulation scheme that increases data rates by 25% compared to the 256 QAM technology of Wi-Fi 5. This new modulation scheme works for the 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrum.
Target Wake Time has been shown to improve battery life for Wi-Fi 6 devices by as much as 67% in industry tests. The MR45 and MR55 use TWT to negotiate wakeup times for energy-conscious Wi-Fi 6 mobile and IoT devices so they can sleep soundly, while conserving energy.
The new Wi-Fi 6 compatible MR45 and MR55 will be able to efficiently send lots of packets! By combining the Meraki Wi-Fi 6 access points with our new access and aggregation switches, network admins can rest easy knowing they’ve reduced any chance of bottlenecks in the network.