Wi-Fi in High EdBy Anthony Juarez On 05/26/2023
Wi-Fi in Higher Education, the original BYOD environment, is just one of the many challenges in designing and maintaining a robust Wi-Fi network. This environment provides you with multiple verticals, from consumer-grade devices in residence halls to corporate devices in the University administration offices. Some universities also include high-density venues for sporting events and concerts in which attendance can range from 20,000 to 100,000 users. Each of these different verticals will require different authentication, security, and requirements. The end user should be able to configure their device for the wireless network once and then seamlessly connect to it as they move across the entire campus, just like their cellular service.
The "Home" Wireless Experience
Some of the residence halls' challenges are the students are looking for the "home" wireless experience, plug and play. Their iPhone works fine with their Apple TV at home, so they want it to work the same on campus. Some consumer products we have been asked to connect to the network include TVs, pet feeders, toys, baby monitors, microwave ovens, gaming systems, Friendship Lamps, and smart speakers. The list grows with new products being released daily.
Aesthetics is always challenging in any environment. You have building architects stating nothing goes on the ceilings, then you ask about lighting, fire suppression, and detection and get the response that they are building requirements. In today's always-connected mentality, I would argue that wireless access points must be included in basic building requirements as the wireless network has become part of the Life Safety System and building automation.
I like to follow an old saying with a twist, "Children should be seen and not heard," and "APs should be heard and not seen." This can be accomplished in many ways. Some companies can create skins for your APs to match the environment (https://www.acceltex.com/skins/), and other options are paintable AP covers or enclosures (https://www.chatsworth.com/en-us/products/wireless-enclosures/ap-covers/access-point-covers). One of the first things wireless engineers do when walking into a new building or space is look up to see if they can find the APs. This is both curiosity and looking for future solutions for their own deployments. There is even a Twitter hashtag, #ApsInTheWild.
The sub-verticals in the University all have their unique requirements. In addition to higher education, our institution offers schooling from kindergarten through high school. The challenge is that students are not provided a network account until the 5th grade, and the school introduced a one-device-to-student policy starting in 3rd grade, with tablets and laptops available for use by 1st and 2nd grades. To get these devices on the wireless network, a new SSID was created along with AP Groups to limit the location of this SSID since these devices will not be roaming across campus. Since these devices are all managed by an MDM, we implemented a PSK network with MAC authentication and planned to change the key yearly.
The University Police were deploying in-car video and body cameras that would need to be uploaded when a squad car pulled into the parking lot or the officers entered the station. However, this video must be on a private fire-walled network to meet security requirements. The solution was to place the APs in local mode and map the new SSID to a VLAN inside the firewall, thus allowing the campus SSIDs to function normally.
To provide cover in the parking garage, a MESH network was deployed to cover the basement and ground floor. We have deployed a small MESH wireless network around campus for two other applications.
The university gas station was going to implement card readers at the two gas pumps, these readers need to be connected to the wired network, and the cost of installing new cabling was uneconomical because blast-resistant concrete would be required to repair any trenching. The pump island already had available electrical and a mounting pole that could be used for an AP, so a root AP was installed outside the station and the MESH unit mounted on the pole on the island, and then a Cisco IE3400 rugged switch that the card readers would connect and the connected the uplink port to the MESH AP, with the required VLAN trunked across the link.
The second use of outdoor MESH was the university shuttles busses. We installed card readers in each bus and then connected them to an autonomous AP in bridge mode, which would then connect to the MESH APs around campus to sync data from the card readers with the central database. This allowed the university to track usage and adjust schedules as needed.
Higher education Wi-Fi provides ubiquitous, robust, scalable, and secure wireless internet connectivity across campuses. It supports the institution's academic, research, and administrative needs, and the "home wireless" experience for the students in the residential halls, while also enabling emerging technologies for enhanced learning and research experiences.Tagged with: Wi-Fi, higher education, connectivity, cwicp
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