Q&A: University of Colorado Creates a Seamless Indoor-Outdoor Wi-Fi Experience

With careful planning and custom designs, UCCS nearly tripled its outdoor coverage.

Cody Ensanian, a wireless network technician at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, talks to EdTech about the unexpected challenges that come with a major Wi-Fi upgrade outdoors.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how universities are tackling the challenge of having Wi-Fi outdoors.

EDTECH: Tell me about this Wi-Fi initiative.

Ensanian: Prior to this project, we had 23 outdoor access points spaced throughout campus. A lot of those coincided with new construction that was happening on campus, and most were located outside of our main campus area. 

We’d really been wanting to increase the coverage, because there’s plenty of opportunity for learning, teaching and studying outdoors. Wireless networks are becoming more and more of an expectation from everyone on campus, which is another good reason that we wanted to extend beyond the insides of our buildings.

EDTECH: What was the timeline for the project?

Ensanian: The early talks began late in 2017. In the IT department, we were talking about where exactly we wanted to see this increased coverage. We made a decision to contract out a lot of the work and the design. We just didn’t have the bandwidth or the manpower to do it in-house. 

We’d already had a working partnership with CDW, so we reached out to them. In the spring of 2018, CDW performed a site survey of the whole campus. The original proposal came out to 122 APs

The next chunk of the process went from May through September of 2018. It involved going through the proposal, running it by our campus architect, working on some unique solutions with CDW and reviewing other items, such as our existing outside plant, data closets and all sorts of details. 

Some of the proposed AP placements were more remote and would get minimal use, and the initial cost to do the whole campus came way over budget. So, we had to pare that down. We have a main pedestrian spine that flows from the east to the west, so we decided to focus on that main area. Forty access points would cover the heart of our central campus. 

By October 2018, we had a final proposal set, and the installation took place from November through February. 

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EDTECH: Who was involved with the project?

Ensanian: It takes a lot of people to pull off a big project like this. CDW and all of their subcontractors, and then on campus, we partnered with our facilities department, campus architect, electricians, plumbers, housing staff, auxiliary staff, other people on my IT team — everyone from our CIO down to our wired team. 

Our project manager helped manage all these different contacts, and our wireless network manager gave great input and insight into the direction of the project. We all did a great job of supporting one another.

EDTECH: If a colleague from another university approached you for advice on a project like this, what would you say?

Ensanian: Success on a project like this depends on many partnerships; involve them in the planning process as early as you can. Do as much of your own internal prep work as you can ahead of time — stuff like locating your data closets, finding your switch ports, scoping out your cable paths. Is your outdoor plant properly documented and reliable? Getting all that stuff situated before the actual kickoff helps greatly. 

Getting different eyes on each part of the solution helps. There’s a lot of moving parts with a project like this, and it’s easy for one person to overlook a small but important detail. 

Future-proof where you can. We tried to use larger conduits on some new installs, in case in the future we wanted to add extra antenna cables. Take real caution of where and how you’re mounting APs so that they’re easily accessible in the future for servicing. 

Finally, keep the big picture in mind. Remember that pulling off any big project like this successfully requires a lot of planning, a lot of design coordination, redesign, tweaking. A project like this isn’t going to get completed in a couple of months, so budget that, be honest with yourself and realize that if you’re going to do this properly and successfully, it takes time.

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Jul 17 2019

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