The brave new world of student Wi-Fi

The University of Derby is offering students 24/7 access to Wi-Fi thanks to the deployment of the latest Ruckus Wireless technology in its halls of residence, reports Kate O’Flaherty

The brave new world  of student Wi-Fi

A Ruckus Wireless solution has been installed at the University of Derby, offering students a 24/7 Wi-Fi network in the halls of residence.

The solution consists of 450 ZoneFlex 7321 access points, using a Ruckus ZoneDirector 5000 controller – soon to be upgraded to its SmartCell gateway 200 controller. The installation and deployment was done by Ruckus reseller Ask4. 

The system, which is in the halls of residence only, supplies 2,300 students across seven buildings on a disparate campus of around 1.5 miles. The Wi-Fi service, which is priced as part of the students’ rent, is set at 16Mb/s and Ask4 offers upgrade paths to 50Mb/s or 100Mb/s if needed.

The ZD5000 controllers are centralised, allowing Ask4 to manage all its networks across the country. The students have one unified account and settings that they can change.

Ask4 will soon upgrade the controllers, moving onto the SmartCell Gateway. ‘We can manage up to 10,000 access points using this,’ says Matt Eley, director at Ask4. This compares to the ZD5000, which manages 5,000 access points across the UK.

Previously, the University of Derby had an Ask4 solution in place, comprising a wired broadband provision. ‘Our relationship with them goes back three years now,’ says Mark Travers, head of commercial services at University of Derby. ‘When we first went with Ask4, Wi-Fi was new and untrusted; it was a risk putting it in.’

‘In education, the problem is moving from one of coverage to one of capacity and control,’ says David Callisch, VP of marketing at Ruckus Wireless. ‘IT managers are trying to make the infrastructure strong to control an increasing number of devices. There are lots of choices, but they don’t always solve your problems. First and foremost you have to have a constant level of performance.’

Student demand

The university has found that students are early adopters of technology, with most owning smartphones and tablets. ‘It was a case of making sure we were meeting the demand of the students,’ Travers says. ‘We are dependant on a strong student market.’

Student life now revolves around communicating over the internet, Eley says. ‘We have seen three times the devices over the network over the last year. The MacBook Pro doesn’t even have Ethernet – that shows how things are going.’

Adding to this, many courses are going online and subjects such as art can see students downloading huge files. Students are also big consumers of online TV streaming services such as Netflix and iPlayer, Eley says.

Due to students’ erratic working hours, Ask4 offers a 24/7 support centre for those having problems with the wireless network. Eley says the most busy time is between 11pm and 1am, when the majority of students are online.

Security is also integral in a university environment. The Ruckus solution is entirely secure, and the system will recognise an unauthorised device. Ask4 monitors internet use and investigates if the university thinks the internet is being misused, says Travers. ‘We would warn people and if misuse continued we may well remove the internet,’ he says. ‘It’s about risk management.’

There are many devices and things are constantly in flux so wireless connectivity is ‘a big deal’, says Callisch. ‘Our big issue is trying to make wireless more reliable – as strong and as fast as it can be. You have to get signals to the end device.’

Data rates

The Ruckus solution features a smart antenna for a stronger signal. ‘It’s an adaptive antenna array and we can direct the signal to where ever we want it to be,’ says Callisch. ‘We can focus and direct the signal where it’s needed for extended range – it goes further, and is also stronger – with a higher data rate. Wi-Fi is based on how strong the signal is; the faster it is, the faster you can talk.’

The Ruckus system also mitigates the need for as many access points, saving all-important cash for schools. In environments like education where 100 access points are needed with suppliers such as Cisco, with Ruckus, ‘you need about 50’, Callisch says. ‘So the Capex is lower – schools love that – and you get better signal and better coverage.’ 

Traffic management is also key, says Eley. Ask4 offers its own network and traffic management and ‘prioritising is a big factor’, he says. The solution fits the university’s needs and Travers says it will consider upgrades to the system in the future. Callisch thinks the education sector will soon adopt 802.11ac – the next big Wi-Fi technology. 

‘It requires physical chips, so it’s a physical upgrade,’ he says, adding: ‘Our recommendation is, be very careful – don’t just upgrade your network; 802.11ac will be useful for high capacity environments.’

And as Wi-Fi networks get faster, it is essential that universities move with the times in order to attract the right students. 

‘From what we’ve seen over the last three years or so, things are very different from five years ago, when students were bringing desktop computers,’ says Travers. ‘Now it’s all stashed away in a briefcase – laptops, tablets and smartphones. The market has changed a lot in five years; it’s essential that we move with the times.’

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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