1. The Average College Student Brings 3 Devices To Campus
Empty a student’s bag, and you’re likely to find a laptop and a smartphone. Many also carry a tablet or e-reader. Back in the residence hall, students may have hooked up a gaming console, wireless printer, Wi-Fi speakers, AppleTV, smart TV, Blu-Ray player and more. Add in wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness bands, and the notion that students are bringing just three devices to campus—which may have been true a few years ago—starts to look downright conservative.
According to a recent report, the average college student brings seven internet- connected devices to campus, and upgrades devices frequently.
All of these devices are Wi-Fi enabled, and they are all trying to connect to campus Wi-Fi access points.
2. More Access Points = Better Coverage & Performance
It’s a common misconception in many areas of life—not just Wi-Fi—to think that throwing money at a problem will solve it. Just like having the highest payroll in baseball the last few years didn’t buy the Dodgers a title, buying APs like they’re going out of style won’t necessarily translate to better performance. In fact, extravagant, over-deployed Wi-Fi networks consistently prove inferior to measured, incisive installations.
Why? Because adding APs to a Wi-Fi deployment can add capacity to a point, but add too many and they become counter-productive. When you over-deploy APs, you increase the likelihood of more than one AP communicating with the same device over the same channel—(a phenomenon known as co-channel interference) which degradesperformance.
Imagine standing in a lecture hall running the wireless scan function on your iPad. Your device would see the AP in the room you’re in, as well as the AP in the room(s) next door, all operating on the same channel at a signal above -80 dBm. For devices using the 2.4 GHz frequency band (the band with the broadest support among consumer devices), there are only three non-interfering channels available in North America. So, if you have APs installed in every classroom, or every dorm room, it’s a virtual certainty that your users’ smartphones, tablets and laptops will “see” more than one AP covering the same channel. Think about driving to work, listening to your favorite song
on your local radio station, and hearing another song cut into it as you approach a different radio station that’s broadcasting over the same channel—it’s that same kind of interference messing with your Wi-Fi connections.
3. Wi-Fi Is The Weakest Link In Your IT Security
It would be silly to argue that adding Wi-Fi has no effect on IT security. Students, faculty and administrators can be authenticated wirelessly. Hackers on premises can create “honeypots” to lure negligent users into vulnerable situations. Online “wardriving” sites can show nosy people the location of the school that students and teachers attend. None of those things make an IT person’s job easier, and all of those things can cause embarrassment if a worst-case scenario happens.
Let’s be honest though: the days of serious network attacks originating via the Wi-Fi link are over. Wi-Fi security is now strong, standardized, and widely available.
Have you seen stories in the past about department stores being hacked via the Wi-Fi? That isn’t happening today. Those hackers cracked WEP, and modern campus installations require WPA2 Enterprise.
Remember when another nationwide department store chain was hacked because the HVAC repairman made a mistake?
That isn’t happening again either. Modern campus installations use separate VLANs for guest access, thus keeping vendors, repairmen, and others away from sensitive internal data.
4. All Access Points Are Created Equally
To many purchasing managers, there persists this notion that Wi-Fi APs are just a commodity. Wi-Fi is just Wi-Fi, the thinking goes. All products are based on the same OEM board designs, designed to a common standard of interoperability, and the same across vendors. It may be tempting to believe that Wi-Fi is just a utility these days, and one AP is as good as another. But if you’re the one who has to field the complaints and troubleshoot issues, you know this just isn’t true.
All major brand enterprise APs use standard chipsets and OEM reference designs, follow the IEEE 802.11 standards, and offer proven interoperability thanks to Wi-Fi Alliance testing. But there’s a lot of room to go above and beyond the standards, and not every AP vendor takes that next step.
Unfortunately, some AP vendors offer “cheap” APs that look great on a bill of materials but often perform poorly. Using off-the-shelf OEM board designs and basic AP antennas with no RF performance optimization allows vendors to sell APs at bargain-basement prices. If your vendor is offering “too good to be true” pricing on your APs, that’s a red flag that you may be looking at a lower-performing, off-the-shelf design.
Fortunately, that’s not the only option. By using a highly optimized board design and antenna innovation, high- performing APs can deliver 6dB stronger signal and 9dB less noise from an RF perspective, resulting in superior performance as measured scientifically by signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Luckily, you don’t have to pore over stats on a data sheet to see this improved performance. Test out a standard OEM board design AP vs a performance-optimized AP in your own environment, and compare download speeds versus distance to mobile clients. You’ll see the difference pretty quickly.
5. More Broadband Solves Most Problems
OK, to be fair, this isn’t completely a myth. We would all love more broadband, right? If your students see 100Mbps download speeds on their iPad running a speed test, would they grab a screen shot and post it to Instagram, or Tweet it out? You bet.
That said, the most frequent and obvious problem that causes students to complain about poor Wi-Fi (and blame IT) is slow broadband connectivity. Yet in many cases, the Wi-Fi really isn’t the problem. The fastest Wi-Fi networks on the planet, which can now deliver local connection speeds at hundreds of megabits per second to devices, come to a crawl if there isn’t enough distribution or backhaul to the Internet. Even a 100Mbps Internet connection is too slow when you have hundreds of students served by a handful of APs in a lecture hall that are struggling to make and keep connections and provide airtime fairness. This makes Wi-Fi appear slow or unreliable. Another major problem, not directly related to Wi-Fi, is simply wired network design. Switching, routing, and higher layer functions, such as DHCP and DNS systems not configured correctly to support the explosion of Wi-Fi network connections, can wreak havoc on the network. Yet this will still appear to be a Wi-Fi problem.