Increasing Student Demand for WiFi Is Hurting Connectivity
Students are bringing more devices to campus than ever before, and using up more bandwidth than ever in the process.
As we’ve discussed before, millennials present wireless network administrators with a whole host of new challenges. Despite only comprising 29% of the US population, millennials account for 41% of the total time Americans spend using a smartphone — that means that where there are millennials, there is very likely to be outsized bandwidth demand.
As such, in environments like colleges and universities where millennials make up the bulk of network users, IT teams must to pay careful attention to how they design and manage their network infrastructure in order to guarantee that connectivity isn’t compromised.
“Colleges and universities are amongst the most demanding wireless environments today,” explains a recent study on ResNet (residential network) trends across higher education. “Over the past five years…bandwidth demand by students has been increasing.”
Strong Network Connectivity Is Critical to Modern Education
The study attributes this increase to two primary factors: a proliferation of new devices and increasingly bandwidth-intensive traffic. According to a separate survey, 54% of students regularly bring two internet-connected devices with them to campus daily — typically a smartphone and a laptop. A further 22% of students bring three or four devices to campus on a regular basis.
Though it’s undeniable that most students spend a good portion of their time on campus networks scrolling through their social media feeds and streaming video, most millennial students — some 75% — believe that technology has a “positive” or “significantly positive” impact on their academic success.
And while administrators are often frustrated by students’ recreational network usage patterns, there is little disagreement over the value of technology in higher education. In fact, one of the more curious findings of the ResNet study was that the fraction of colleges and universities reporting a “strong wireless connection” across at least 81% of their campus dropped from 82.8% in 2016 to 76.7% in 2017.
Examining the data more closely, however, it becomes clear that this slight decrease in campus connectivity is the result of reductions in wireless infrastructure in “social areas” — cafeterias, quads, rec centers, and so forth. Wireless connectivity in “academic areas” — lecture halls, libraries, research labs — actually increased from 2016 to 2017, as did the average per student gigabit allowance over ResNets in dorms and other campus housing facilities.
What this indicates is that college and university network administrators recognize the educational benefit of strong WiFi connectivity, but are less concerned with facilitating non-academic internet activity outside of students’ places of residence. In other words, schools’ top priority is to provide their students with the IT resources they need to succeed in the classroom — everything else is negotiable.
Campus Network Traffic Is Becoming Increasingly Bandwidth-Intensive
Whether due to this measured prioritization or their own skewed expectations, over 20% of students still rate their school’s wireless network as either “fair” or “poor.” In many cases, this dissatisfaction stems from a campus network’s inability to support not only the number of devices students use, but the ways in which they use them.
Houston Community College, for instance, reports that a remarkable 65% of all wireless traffic on its networks is video-based. Services like YouTube and Netflix are as bandwidth-intensive as they are popular, and they can easily hamper overall network connectivity if allowed to run unchecked.
Cloud-based applications and backup systems are just as much of a problem, and what’s more, they often fly under network administrators’ radar. “Developers design file syncing apps to operate continuously and transparently in the background,” reports eCampus News. “OS updates can trigger at a moment’s notice with a new software release. Both file syncing and OS updates can use a substantial amount of bandwidth.”
Creating a Campus-Ready Network
So what’s a campus network administrator to do? Accommodating more devices that are driving more bandwidth-intensive traffic is a challenge, but networking professionals have a number of strategies at their disposal that can help get network dissatisfaction metrics well below their current levels.
Campus IT teams need to partner with a campus networking expert like Turn-key Technologies, who can perform a comprehensive network assessment in order to determine where their network’s weak spots are and what can be done to rectify them. With over two decades of experience in the higher education sector, we know everything there is to know about designing, deploying, and managing a top-notch campus network.