May 18 2015

Connectivity Is the Secret to a Great Student and College Sports Fan Experience

Wireless-enabled dorms maintain student enrollment, while stadiumwide high-density Wi-Fi networks help fans connect with their home teams.

These days, college students typically carry between four and seven tech devices each. That increase in on-campus tablets, smartphones, notebooks and wearable devices has forced universities to rethink traditional connectivity.

For one thing, Ethernet ports have largely disappeared from handheld devices, and the soaring device count has made the one-to-one ratio of students to ports obsolete.

Most higher ed institutions have already taken steps to provide increased Wi-Fi access in classrooms, libraries and other public spaces, and many are now shifting their focus to the places where students spend the most time: residence halls.

Currently, many on- and off-campus dorms lack official wireless networks. Some residence halls allow students to outfit their quarters with consumer-grade routers, but that can do more harm than good: EdTech reports that at one university, “misconfigured routers would take down the network in residential buildings on a monthly basis, while routers positioned too close together caused interference, hindering performance.”

Although those issues may seem like mere annoyances, they’re actually quite serious. At some universities, enrollment has taken a hit as a direct result of wireless deficiencies on campus — evidence that prospective students prioritize connectivity and are willing to look elsewhere to find it.

That realization has driven a number of colleges and universities to seek new funding for wireless network improvements, as well as costly upgrades to legacy systems and aging local area networks.

Faced with a wireless overhaul, many IT leaders have tapped experts from CDW to determine the best solution for their needs. Through site surveys, CDW’s solution architects can help optimize signal strength and coverage, especially on campuses where the foot-thick walls found in many older buildings can weaken connections. It’s not about simply installing more access points, but determining the best coverage model for students’ needs.

3 Cheers for Wi-Fi

The multiphase approach to dorm room connectivity is just a small taste of what IT leaders must accomplish when installing public high-density Wi-Fi networks in college stadiums. At some of those venues, IT personnel begin by introducing Wi-Fi in ticketing, press boxes and club suites. But just as students demand connectivity in their dorms, fans want Wi-Fi across their stadiums to enhance their in-game experience.

Unfortunately, connecting an entire stadium is more easily said than done. IT personnel are challenged with providing Wi-Fi to tens of thousands of wireless users — in some stadiums, more than 100,000 at the same time. During the 2015 Super Bowl, the wireless network carried a record-breaking 6.2 terabytes of data traffic during the game and maintained more than 270,000 connections.

A lot of out-of-the-box thinking goes into establishing a wireless network, and an equal amount of creativity results. Because most fans check their smartphones as they watch the game, colleges have looked for creative ways to enhance the fan experience. Mobile apps now allow fans to view the action on the field from live video streams with multiple camera angles, watch replays, review player statistics and team information, and navigate the stadium. Some apps can even make parking less of a nightmare.

In today’s tech-dependent world, that level of connectivity is just what students have come to expect — and higher ed institutions that don’t offer it will eventually pay the price.

Could your college stadium use a wireless boost? Check out CDW’s Stadium Technology Guide to enhancing the fan experience, featuring case studies from the Arizona Cardinals and University of Pittsburgh, and let us know how we can help.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s new UniversITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #UniversITy hashtag.