While most campuses have robust wireless networks, one area often comes up short: the great outdoors. A study from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research shows that roughly half of students have a subpar experience using Wi-Fi in outdoor spaces.
“Members of a campus community will become cranky when the access they quite literally depend upon is not available, and that today means almost everywhere on campus,” says Craig J. Mathias, a principal of the Farpoint Group.
When West Chester University in Pennsylvania deployed Aruba Networks’ 802.11ac wireless access points throughout its residence halls and student apartments, it didn’t neglect outdoor areas. “I definitely see our student housing deployment giving us the confidence to move toward an all-wireless campus in the future,” says Richard Chan, the assistant director for IT infrastructure.
Outdoor coverage was a necessity for Albany State University, located in the warm climate of southwest Georgia. The institution blanketed its campus with more than 430 Cisco Meraki APs, including weather-resistant models on the football field.
Determine the Most Cost-Effective Locations for Access
When implementing Wi-Fi outdoors, start with the most populated, high-density areas where students, faculty and staff congregate. For instance, people likely gather in the quad during pleasant weather, and outdoor sporting arenas and parking lots may also attract crowds.
Conduct a site survey that addresses factors such as building dimensions, trees and other line-of-sight obstacles, power availability, and maps of the area to be covered.
The largest challenge is where to mount APs, especially from an aesthetic standpoint. “Many APs can use batteries and solar cells for recharging and operate as mesh nodes, meaning that no wired connections are required,” says Mathias.
A systems integrator can assist with installation, and some campuses hand over ongoing administration and maintenance to a managed wireless services provider.