Creating the Right Network Infrastructure for tomorrow’s Digital Learners 

Changes in learning are forcing network administrators to change the way they think about network bandwidth. And they are playing havoc with hardware refresh cycles. Are you ready?

Two huge factors are driving rapid changes in educational networking:

The way that faculty members are using media to reach students. The number of devices each student brings on campus. These changes force network administrators to rethink the way they consider network bandwidth.

The demand will wreak havoc on hardware refresh cycles that saw new wireless access points installed two or three years ago. If you’re in the middle of a refresh cycle, you have some hard decisions ahead.

Video drives the network 

Everyone wants their YouTube and cat videos. And in class, lecturers are not projecting video onto a central screen. They are giving students a URL to watch the video on their personal devices. The class is now responsible for 20 – 200 network streams instead of one.

That and students constantly checking for mail and social media updates mean a dramatic increase in the bandwidth required to each classroom, and to the campus as a whole.

New WiFi to the rescue

The good news is that a new wireless networking standard, 802.11ac is now rolling into the field. 802.11ac Wave 1, which is currently available, can provide bandwidth of more than 700 Mbps. What’s better, these access points can provide that high-speed access to some devices while providing lower speeds to older clients. The whole network does not slow down when old devices are present.

802.11ac Wave 2, which should start hitting customers in 2016, will provide up to seven gigabits per second of speed. It solves many wireless issues but creates issues on the wire side.

New wireless means new wires

 Most campuses have gigabit Ethernet supplying their access points. Obviously, 7-gigabit access points need more than one gigabit Ethernet, so some campuses have begun dropping 10-gigabit lines to their APs. Also, these faster APs require Power Over Ethernet+, which may involve new injectors or Ethernet switches. These are not small costs because they involve changing physical infrastructure in existing structures.

Moving to 802.11ac is not like the move from 802.11a to 802.11n. The new move is a significant upgrade to the infrastructure.

Security is still key

No matter how you plan your infrastructure changes, privacy issues must be considered, the requirement to keep student data private cannot be ignored.

The new wireless technologies aren’t intrinsically more vulnerable than earlier versions. They don’t buy you intrinsically better security, either, so a secure network core is still essential.

The new wireless standards will solve many problems for campus network administrators. But look closely at what the new wave of APs will mean to your cable plant.

Either that or tell your students it’s back to composition book and pencil. Good luck with that.