THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WI-FI IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Modern learning environments are powered by technology and the wireless network needs to enable staff to work, and students to learn, from anywhere and on any device. This can be a tall order, especially when you have a large campus consisting of a wide range of different environments, from cafeterias, to libraries and halls of residence.
The resources drawn together on this page are designed to educate, inform, and inspire wireless professionals to build robust and resilient campus Wi-Fi, in order to improve learning outcomes.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Gathering Your Requirements
The first step of any wireless project is to understand the network requirements (what the network needs to do). These are unique to each university, campus, and building but they will tend to share similar requirements. For example, they will have a different set of users and devices connected on a daily basis, but the types of devices (e.g. smartphones, laptops) and the need to separate the network for guests from students and staff are common.
Fundamentally your requirements list should identify;
- The types, numbers and throughput requirements of devices that will be using the network
- The types of applications to be run on those devices
- How client devices will access the network
- The level of security that needs to be provided
- How the network itself will be monitored and managed
These are in turn dictates by the overarching objectives of the wireless network. In a higher education setting these are likely to be fourfold:
- Enable staff to work flexibly and productively
- Empower teachers and professors to provide the best possible education to students
- Empower students to learn, from anywhere on campus, and on any device
- Provide guest Wi-Fi access for visitors and guests
It’s important to keep your stakeholders, and the high-level objectives at the centre of your subsequent Wi-Fi design decisions. Otherwise you will likely end up with a solution that doesn’t meet the their specific needs, and requires troubleshooting or even a complete re-design.
Webinar: Education Wi-Fi Expert Experiences
In this panel discussion moderated by Jussi Kiviniemi from Ekahau, five expert guest panellists; Rowell Dionicio, Mitch Dickey, Robert Boardman, Ferney Munoz and Keith Parsons share their education Wi-Fi experiences, best practices and war stories. Everything is covered, from education requirements to the network, to hands-on design best practices, and troubleshooting 101.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Choosing an Access Point
Your WLAN design will fail at the first hurdle if you don’t pick the right Access Point (AP) for the job. This is why it’s important to fully understand your network requirements and design constraints before selecting an AP model to design around.
Unfortunately, most Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) tend to pick the AP vendor and models that they are most comfortable with, not necessarily the ones most suitable to the application. Important things to consider when selecting an AP are;
If you pick the cheapest possible hardware it will most likely buckle during peak hours when the density of clients is highest. On the other hand, large enterprise APs could be overkill, incurring additional up-front investment, and higher ongoing licensing costs for features that are never going to be used in practice.
Most AP deployments have a typical expected lifespan of 3-5 years. Therefore, it should be the future requirements, not today’s, which drive the selection of your access points.
Generally, aesthetic constraints will dictate the selection of an indoor AP with internal antennas. Especially in historic buildings on the campus. External antennas, however, offer additional flexibility for mounting, along with the ability to add 3rd party antennas with particular profiles for custom applications.
Access Point Performance
In high-density areas look for access points with MU-MIMO as this allows the AP to simultaneously communicate with multiple clients in the same environment (for client devices that support the technology). This gives you a denser utilization of the channel, thus increasing total potential channel capacity and throughput per client device. The more spatial streams per radio the higher the maximum data rate.
Controllers have a heavy hardware approach, which make growth difficult and upgrades even harder. Cloud-managed Wi-Fi reduces the manpower required to maintain a controller-based architecture, and also makes it easier to manage. If you are responsible for a very large campus, or multiple campuses it’s likely you will want a cloud-based architecture to provide centralized visibility and control.
New or refurbished buildings tend to present the opportunity to get the latest wiring and switches, however if you are upgrading APs in an existing building the current infrastructure can have a large influence on which APs you can use. For example, you will need to check if existing Ethernet switches support the model/s of access point and their Power over Ethernet (PoE) requirements.
Security and segregation will be another primary concern with sensitive data traversing the network. Some APs come equipped with a third radio, which is used as a dedicated security sensor for 24x7x365 scanning and automated over-the-air (OTA) prevention.
You might also want to look for APs with integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radios if you want to use student and visitor wayfinding, an increasingly common feature on university campuses.
The C-110 provides best value among high-performing, modern access points designed for cost-conscious universities. Built using the latest 802.11ac Wave 2 chipsets, the C-110 is perfect for medium density environments looking for the high performance and advanced features of current access points without the high cost. The C-110 provides access to advanced access point features like role-based firewalls and application visibility without the high cost typically associated with Wave 2 devices. The C-110 is also a perfect fit for organizations in need of future-ready dedicated security sensors.
It also supports the iBeacon Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard and collects massive amounts of data to support immersive guest network experiences that develop and reinforce the relationship between students and guests and your institution.
The C-130 is the only access point that provides consistent, high performance access with automatic, over-the-air threat prevention. The C-130 removes the need to sacrifice application performance for high security, and is a must for all critical, high-density networks that expect a high volume of diverse clients with diverse needs. With its Wave 2 chipset, the C-130 takes advantage of the latest modulation and beamforming techniques that transform Wi-Fi networks and offer the speeds and reliability once thought only possible over the wire. Best of all, the C-130 offers this best-in-class performance at a similar cost to competitive 802.11ac Wave 1 and Wave 2 access points.
Arista Networks has received SOC 2 Type 1 and Type 2 attestation for security, availability, and confidentiality of the Arista Cloud-managed WiFi solution. This establishes Arista as the first and only cloud Wi-Fi vendor to achieve such attestation for practices in cloud-based Wi-Fi management (SaaS).
Whitepaper: Wi-Fi Challenges in Education
Wi-Fi in the education space has become nothing less than a critical resource. Whether in the classroom in direct support of the academic mission, or used in support roles to keep facilities running, the wireless network only gets more important with each school year.
Download this whitepaper for insider tips from a Wi-Fi expert in education on how to optimize, troubleshoot, budget and overall best practices.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Predictive Modelling
The infamous “one access point per classroom” rule of thumb is a marketing concept, not a design. By stating each classroom needs an access point without determining the actual requirements first is skipping the most important step; planning. This will most likely lead to the installation of unnecessary APs, leading to increased costs and channel overlap – or in high-density areas not enough APs to support the number of clients.
Once you have clear design requirements and know which AP/s you will be deploying you should use a professional software package such as Ekahau Pro to create a predictive model. This involves building a mathematical model of the building by loading in a floor plan, and drawing in the exterior and interior walls, windows and doors. You need to specify what they are made of so that the unique attenuation and reflectivity characteristics of the materials can be accounted for by the software. If a CAD drawing is available, the whole process becomes much easier because Ekahau Pro will automatically draw the walls for you.
Once you have completed drawing the walls you must then enter the performance and capacity requirements of the network. You can now place your access points (Ekahau Pro has a library of the antenna patterns for most common AP vendors and models) onto the floor plan in order to see how the signal will propagate and self-interfere. You can freely move APs around and change their individual channel and transmit power settings to see how it impacts the performance of the network. You can also get Ekahau Pro to automatically place the APs and optimise the channel plan to minimize co-channel interference based upon the performance and capacity requirements you entered.
The main advantage of predictive modelling is that it’s fairly straightforward and inexpensive to do and doesn’t require a site visit. The down-side is that it uses simplified assumptions, so if the floor plan is inaccurate, or the actual building materials behave differently in the real world, the resulting design will be incorrect. However, we still recommend them because they are extremely useful when creating an initial estimate on the quantity, location, and channel and transmit power settings of your APs.
Ekahau Pro shows you where to place and how to configure your access points by accurately predicting network coverage, performance and capacity. The Ekahau Pro Auto-Planner designs the network according to your capacity requirements. Ekahau Pro also shows the overloaded APs and areas of excessive voice calls.
Case Study: Universidad Alfonso X El Sabio (UAX)
At UAX, an estimated 84% of students and faculty access the network every day and the network often supports over 2,000 concurrent users at any given time. With demand for bandwidth growing 35% annually and over half of all users complaining about the speed of the network, UAX needed to find a new Wi-Fi solution. That solution needed to be able to scale with their growth, be easy to deploy and manage, and align with their budget constraints.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Pre-deployment Survey
This is an on-site survey (sometimes called an AP on a Stick Survey) where an access point is temporarily positioned in the environment, using a wireless site survey kit such as the HiveRadar. You would normally place the AP in the same locations as on your predictive model because you can then use your actual attenuation measurements to refine the model.
You will most likely find third party Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi devices in the area which conflict with your proposed channel plan. Your findings can then be used to amend your design to avoid this interference.
Tools like Ekahau Pro and the Ekahau Sidekick are specifically designed for these types of measurements, though keep in mind they only offer a snapshot in time. Therefore, the survey may not be accurate if construction changes are made to the environment or if new neighbouring Wi-Fi or other RF systems are installed after the survey is done.
HiveRadar Wireless Site Survey Kit (WSSK)
The HiveRadar Wireless Site Survey Kit (WSSK) is a compact and rugged case loaded with all the tools you need including a custom battery with power cables, AP mounting pole, laser distance measure, LED flashlight, and multi-tool.
Ask an Expert
Our experts are on hand to provide you with any knowledge or technical information that you require about our Wi-Fi solutions or Higher Education Wi-Fi as a whole.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Post-deployment Survey
After the network is installed a post-deployment survey is essential to validate that your SLAs are being achieved. In the same way that if you wanted gigabit to the desktop and purchase Cat5e ethernet cable, you don’t know for sure if it will carry gigabit traffic until you validate it and prove it meets your specific requirements. Don’t simply trust the install worked as you planned – test your network before you get called back to fix it later.
Tools like Ekahau Pro and the Ekahau Sidekick allow you to perform this post validation survey and ‘prove’ your installed systems meet or exceed your WLAN requirements. It’s likely the results will highlight that some final adjustments to access point settings are required.
Again, keep in mind that any site survey measurements are a snapshot in time and may not reflect WLAN performance into the future.
The Ekahau Sidekick is an all-in-one measurement device housing two enterprise-grade 802.11ac adapters and an ultra-high resolution spectrum analyser to dramatically streamline the site survey process whilst providing greater reliability, accuracy and convenience.
Blog: Value of a Post-Installation Wi-Fi Site Survey
In the Wi-Fi industry we have been throwing around the word ‘survey’ for a long time. Many use it incorrectly and it has taken on many meanings over the years. This is the fault of those inside the industry as well as those just trying to talk like they know what they are doing.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Building a Captive Portal
A captive portal is the web page displayed to the user of a public Wi-Fi network before they can use the internet freely. Effectively the user is “captive” until they have completed the actions required, which is normally some sort of authentication.
Captive portals are great for marketing and commercial communication purposes but can also be huge momentum killers if done incorrectly. Seconds count and anything that unduly impedes your student’s and visitor’s ability to get connected is likely to discourage them. To build a captive portal that delights make sure you follow these ten rules.
Arista Network Guest Manager
With Arista Networks Guest Manager it’s easy to extend your secure, high-performance, Wi-Fi network to guests, patients and visitors. Deliver a personalized experience aligned with your objectives to increase patient satisfaction.
Webinar: Make a Splash with Arista Canvas
With Arista (formerly Mojo) Canvas you can create beautiful splash pages in just minutes without any web experience. Watch this webinar to learn how to personalise your loyalty program using the extensive built-in reports or by API to feed Wi-Fi guest analytics into your CRM to create brand ambassadors and increase revenue per visit.
Higher Education Wi-Fi: Performance Monitoring
Most colleges and universities need ubiquitous, high-speed Wi-Fi 24/7 or they risk facing the wrath of the student body play out over social media. Similarly teachers, professors, and other staff depend on highly reliable Wi-Fi to do their jobs. Wireless network disruption and outages create potentially severe operational and reputational costs, which is why a method of monitoring the performance of your wireless network is important.
Whilst WLAN access points can collect some data, they don’t collect enough in order to accurately diagnose Wi-Fi performance issues. And without the data, there is little hope for Wi-Fi optimization or long term Wi-Fi assurance. Handheld tools such as the Ekahau Sidekick are excellent at troubleshooting persistent issues, but a disparate network of geographically dispersed buildings make it difficult to tackle intermittent Wi-Fi problems that may impact workflows and the learning experience.
This is where an independent wireless performance monitoring solution like 7SIGNAL is worth considering. They provide a comprehensive system for continually monitoring the performance of Wi-Fi networks and wireless experiences across your entire campus. They proactively identify issues and alert you so that you can remediate performance issues before they adversely impact patient care.
Sapphire Eye 2200
7SIGNAL’s patented Wi-Fi sensor called Sapphire Eye™ acts like a high-performance client and benchmarks the Wi-Fi performance with around-the-clock user experience testing and passive scanning of the 2.4 and 5GHz frequency bands. They go beyond data provided by AP vendors and are completely agnostic, working with all industry-standard wireless access points, regardless of whether they are controller or cloud managed.
Case Study: University of Northern Iowa solves campus-wide Wi-Fi performance issues and restores student confidence
Many institutions of higher learning, both public and private, struggle to keep pace with growing bandwidth and connectivity requirements amid limited technical resources and constrained budgets. The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) was no exception. They had only one network engineer focused on wireless, who could not be everywhere at once. Consequently transient Wi-Fi issues went undiagnosed, leaving the perception in certain high density areas that wireless performance was chronically poor.