What Can Businesses Learn From Schools About BYOD?

Technology managers who want to look at the workplace of the future and understand the challenges of today’s technology driven workforce would do well to go to university. It’s not for another round of lectures, but instead for a chance to look at how educational establishments handle the Wi-Fi needs of this generation of students; a generation that has grown up with near instant internet connectivity everyone they are.

So, how does a university cope with thousands of students, each with multiple devices that want to connect to the wireless network? It’s a problem that university IT managers across the world have to deal with on a daily basis.

British universities have a particular problem on their hands: Not only are their universities home to large numbers of overseas students, but many of them are housed in old buildings that are not always conducive to being able to cover large areas easily. And that’s essential for the students, most of whom will have mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and, possibly, wearables – all connecting to the network.

How schools avoid downtime

How then do IT departments ensure that students – the customer – can stay online all the time, whatever device is being used?

The answer is to ensure that every building is completely connected with blanket coverage throughout – no dead spots. Blanket coverage is not enough, though. IT departments must also plan for capacity. It’s one thing to determine capacity today, but how do you plan for 2017 and beyond? The key is to plan for the future. Build the network so you can easily add on in the future.

Students are adept at finding out ways to use bandwidth, and these students will be hitting workplaces in five years – they’ll be adept at finding ways to use company bandwidth too.

Many British universities are old – very old. Colleges established in Victorian times are not regarded as particularly ancient, while establishments from the 50s and 60s are seen as positively modern. In other words, they’re not designed for modern wireless networks – it’s not always easy to set up access to wireless everywhere and Victorian high ceilings can causes particular signalling issues. It’s also challenging to run cabling in an old building. (I will be writing more on this topic soon, so stay tuned!)

On top of all that, lecturers provide an extra burden by asking their students to download applications – simple Internet access is easy for IT departments to deal with, downloading apps is another matter. Universities are looking to address this by ensuring there’s a lot of communication between IT staff and lecturers to assess future needs.

There’s been a move away from paper textbooks to digital, but these are unforgiving on bandwidth: The largest digital textbooks out there weigh in just under 3GB. A few hundred students downloading one of those brutes is going to hit the wireless network pretty hard. But apps for smartphones and iPads can be hard on the network too – while these may be only a few megabytes in size, simultaneous downloads can cripple a badly designed network.

So, what lessons can businesses learn from supporting their demanding clientele?

  • Plan for more capacity than you need – there’s never going to be less traffic.
  • Run more wire than you need, so you can add additional access points when the time comes.
  • The wired network also needs to be a consideration. Switches from 2006 likely will not be able to handle the traffic. A robust wireless network (with 802.11ac) is useless without a modern wired network.
  • It’s important to either have your existing staff trained in Wi-Fi. You can also hire a consultant to help with the planning stage. While it’s easy enough to say, “Hire a Wi-Fi expert”, there are great resources out there for learning the Wi-Fi trade – train your existing staff on Wi-Fi. Your Wi-Fi vendor will offer training courses, or your staff can take measures to get CWNP (Certified Wireless Network Professional)-certified.
  • Finally, look at the building and its layout: Is there lots of concrete? Are the ceilings high? Is there wireless interference from neighbours? All of these will have an effect on your plans.

It’s also important to work with business managers and find out what future plans are. Is a department planning high-bandwidth applications? Will there be a greater use of video? Working closely together will mitigate future problems.

Providing bandwidth for the next generation of C-level employees, building managers, sales engineers, accountants, and countless other jobs, is worth the challenge.



Max is a freelance journalist who has been writing about IT for nearly 30 years. He was the founder-editor of Cloud Pro. He also launched the website, Techworld, and was editor of the weekly newspaper, Network Week. He has written for many computer publications, contributed to national newspapers, and is a frequent conference speaker.

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