Higher Education Invests in Wi–Fi Technology for Smart Campus Projects
A smart campus strategy can help universities improve facility management, lower operational costs and enhance student experiences.
According to experts at The Ohio State University, the smart campus is “a paradigm shift whereby higher education institutions use innovative, next-generation technologies to create a digitally-connected campus and deliver exceptional consumer experience.”
To integrate these smart campus solutions, universities will need robust Wi-Fi networks. This will prove to be essential as new additions such as active-learning classrooms make their way onto campuses.
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What Is a Smart Campus?
Just as cities use technology to enhance citizen services through smart city initiatives, campuses are embracing “smart campus” solutions to streamline the services that students use daily.
A first step is often to modernize the campus experience by integrating technology into services such as housing, dining, stadiums and recreational centers, and transportation.
Smart campuses also include tools for staff and faculty use, such as classroom technology, research facilities, student administration and building operations.
At the Arizona State University, IT leaders installed 11,000 Cisco access points to create an enterprise network design that could handle the 50,000 or more connections that occur on a typical day.
One of ASU’s most notable smart campus projects was at Sun Devil Stadium, which now has Cisco APs supporting sensors to monitor weather, humidity and temperature inside the arena.
In addition, smart sensors can detect noise levels to see which fan section in the stadium is the loudest, information that’s projected onto large displays.
“Using technologies that enable frictionless, touchless, and intuitive experiences — driven by a digitally connected community — these smart campuses seize true transformation to provide the level of service their digitally native student body and faculty have come to expect,” according to Deloitte.
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Smart Campus Infrastructure Can Cut Infrastructure Costs
A key benefit of smart campus infrastructure is that it helps universities offer incoming students the resources they want while keeping costs down.
With only 38 percent of institutions meeting their enrollment goals, colleges may want to consider smart technology integrations that can support campus marketing.
Modern campus Wi–Fi technologies, such as wearable payment systems, real-time parking monitoring applications and secure personal networks, are what students demand from their universities.
While several of these solutions may seem to require more money to implement, smart campus technology actually can help streamline device and service management to be more cost effective.
In a study conducted by the Center for Digital Education and CenturyLink, 50 percent of higher education officials agreed smart campus technology could cut costs, and 43 percent agreed it could boost student retention.
Spending reductions can present themselves in several ways. For example, an essential part of a smart campus is bringing campus devices and applications under a shared infrastructure. Universities can automate and analyze their connected devices, such as sensors, cameras, lights and ID cards, according to a Ruckus brief.
Universities can find inefficiencies more easily through analytics, creating opportunities for improvement.
“You can use that visibility to realize substantial operational savings,” Ruckus notes. “Those savings can then be reinvested in the campus to fund additional student service projects, hire more staff, or expand campus facilities, to name just a few possibilities.”
Another example is a smart building. While many universities have no way of knowing when a building is in use or not, smart campus IT managers can use Internet of Things sensors to detect whether a building is empty and adjust power to the area accordingly to conserve electricity or gas. This can cut building maintenance and energy costs and is also a more environmentally friendly choice.
“Colleges have some interest in trying to create a Wi-Fi ecosystem throughout a campus that would help with things like facilities management,” James Wiley, a principal technology analyst for research advisory firm Eduventures, tells EdTech. “If you know through your IoT and Wi-Fi devices that a building’s not being used at a certain time, then you don’t have to keep the lights on in that building.”
IoT Drives Connected Campus Wi-Fi Solutions
To support smart campus integrations, universities may have to increase investments in campus Wi-Fi solutions to handle the increased bandwidth demands.
According to a Ruckus e-book, a Wi-Fi infrastructure is the backbone for a smart campus plan, which may eventually extend to living, learning and network security.
However, just 23 percent of higher education officials believe their campuses have the infrastructure to support smart campus technologies.
To build a smart campus network that can accommodate several smart technologies, IT leaders will first need to assess their existing campus Wi-Fi solutions to see what devices they can support, a Cisco white paper notes.
It is also important to understand where the locations of smart devices are likely to be and to fill in as many Wi-Fi dead zones as possible.
“An early challenge for colleges and universities adding sensors and smart controllers to HVAC systems was that many were in Wi-Fi inaccessible locations,” Cisco says. “As universities begin experimenting with autonomous technologies like driverless vehicles, though, it will become important to ensure networks blanket the entire campus with enough capacity to stream large amounts of data in real time.”
Kennesaw State University, for example, strategically placed 3,000 Cisco Wi-Fi APs around campus to extend wireless coverage outside.
Finally, universities may want to seek out automated network management solutions. Emerging artificial intelligence solutions from Palo Alto Networks and other vendors can help ensure internet connections are optimized and secured while minimizing the burden on IT staff.
While automated vehicles and fully connected campuses may seem remote for some institutions, experts agree that these types of services will soon be mandatory for universities to be successful.
“Creating these ‘smart campuses’ is no longer an aspirational goal,” the Cisco white paper notes. “It’s a reality.”