Mass Increase in Campus-Wide Electronic Usage Requires Better WiFi

The abundance of electronic devices in use on college campuses, particularly in student housing, are complicating IT networks across institutions.

With the concerns surrounding COVID-19, students now spend more time in their dorm rooms versus libraries and common spaces, so housing is often pushed to the limit in supporting laptops, tablets, phones and gaming consoles, according to Roger Sands, CEO of Wyebot, a Wi-Fi optimization solutions company in Marlborough, Mass.  If not properly set up for all of these online devices, schools can face downed networks and security breaches. For example, Sands notes that Suffolk University learned that connected thermostats in its dorm were losing connectivity impacting the operation of the system.

Another hitch is that many of these WiFi outages happen during peak use time for students, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when onsite IT is not available to help.  

“IoT devices are everywhere,” Sands said. “It’s no longer the case that the network has to be designed to only support student devices like laptops and phones. Now there are voice assistants, smart thermostats, security devices, etc.  Additionally, video streaming and chatting are much more common, making the entire environment more dynamic and data intensive.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Sands said it’s important for every college IT department to have remote access to the network, as many IT teams became limited as to when they could be on campus and travel can be difficult. Wyebot helps IT teams to remotely view the entire network and troubleshoot problems from any location. The WiFi infrastructure is agnostic, as it works with any of the institution’s internet platforms.

“COVID-19 also increased the demand for video collaboration (hybrid learning), creating additional demand on the WiFi infrastructure,” Sands said.

The challenges for institution IT will continue to expand as more students expect technology to run smoother and faster, and of course, reliably.

“If teams don’t have 24/7 complete network visibility—this includes historical data and non-WiFi sources of interference—it’s impossible to provide long-lasting WiFi assurance,” he said.

For example, Wyebot’s Wireless Intelligence Platform (WIP) operates all of the time and automatically saves historical data, so IT can review network performance details from any period in time. The platform also automatically identifies the root cause of issues and includes actionable resolutions with its alerts, so even if IT isn’t onsite, they can solve problems remotely.

“The WiFi network is the backbone of pretty much everything that students depend on, so keeping it reliably optimized is critical,” Sands said. “To do this, IT needs to be able to view and troubleshoot network problems from any location at any time; they need scheduled network tests that look at the network from the student (end user) perspective so that they always know what the student experience is without having to wait for students to report issues; and they need automatic alerts as soon as anything unexpected happens on the network.”

Looking to the future, Sands said that higher ed campuses are going to need to be outfitted for speed, campus-wide Wi-Fi, and other data-intensive technologies. Whether it’s technologies like AR and VR, artificial intelligence assistant and tutors, or sensors to support health and safety initiatives, universities need to be prepared for WiFi to be part of every aspect of students’ lives.