James Brehm's Blog

Why is 802.11N Gaining so Much Traction in the Education Sector?

08 Sep 2010 | by James Brehm
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By James Brehm, Senior Consultant


It's true. Wi-fi in the education market is growing by leaps and bounds. Almost daily higher educational institutions are voting with their checkbooks and selecting solutions to upgrade their infrastructure.

Three years ago, just less than 15% of colleges and universities offered campus wide wireless access. We've seen a steep uptake over the past couple of years and believe that by 2014, 85%-90% of colleges and universities will provide campus wide access.

Universities have tremendous bandwidth demands. In addition to using the network for research, lecture halls must serve a large number of users with multimedia content at any given time. Universities are breaking new ground by using video over WiFi in a number of innovative ways, providing lectures over IP, podcasts, video conferencing, and streaming content directly to the students' laptops no matter what the location is - the library, dorm room, campus cafe, or "quad".

The Higher Education Market is a compelling use case for wireless access. Drivers for growth include:

(1) Older buildings with limited wired/data access...often times it is easier and more cost effective to "light up" a campus than rewire a building.

(2)Savings on convergence costs...Universities can go to use converged voice and data using high data rate wireless to save on costs.

(3)Competitive necessity...Once upon a time, it was only "cutting edge" institutions who had wireless access, now if you don't you are left out in the cold in the battle for students.

(4)Changes in faculty classroom processes...the classroom has changed, web conferencing and presence applications are the norm. Schools from Duke to Oklahoma Christian University to the University of California at San Diego supply iPhone and iPod Touch devices to students who use apps and wifi for time and attendance, location and presence in real time to determine who is in class and who is taking the test. Video is now a mainstay in the curriculum. Using 802.11n, bidirectional two way video can be supported.

(5)Security...If you deploy wifi access across the campus, it is very easy to also deploy IP video surveillance for student protection. also by deploying layered security from companies like AirTight Networks, your wireless network can be more secure than a wired LAN. Additionally, you can have real time location based services support and manage high value assets 24x7, 365.

(6)College Students come to school expecting and used to having Wi-Fi access. Nearly all have experienced some sort of wireless access (in the home or in schools) prior to going to University and it is an expectation, and not a "nice to have".

(7)Universities can often times act as Service Providers when setting up their campus networks. Instead of being a Cost Center, an IT department (like the one at Texas A&M) can become a revenue generator by using Fixed Mobile Convergence technologies and becoming the students' VNO.

While having an "unwired campus" sounds like a security risk, upon further investigation the opposite is true. Both logical and physical security can be enhanced using wireless. The University of Cincinnati has set up a system for emergency call location using wi-fi. Additionally, once the campus is "lit", it is very easy to also deploy IP video surveillance for student protection.

While areas of higher learning and research are benefitting from having wireless on campus, they will also lead us into new uses for the technology. By consuming more video, having strict security requirements, and the most transient of populations, as higher educations learns how to use 802.11n, they'll surely teach other vertical markets how it is done.