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Networking & Wireless

Ramping Up for the 2016 Mobile Explosion With Wave 1 and Wave 2

How two colleges are preparing for this year's mobile demands.

This month, hundreds of thousands of students are returning to campus loaded down with the latest in laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart watches, print devices and video game systems. Most of the devices are mobile – and students expect the campus network to support all of their devices. Will they be delighted — or frustrated — when everything is hooked up and ready to go?

Lorraine Abraham, CIO and library director of Emory and Henry College (VA), is not taking any chances. "We're replacing the entire network infrastructure," she said, noting that E&H will be fully prepared by installing the latest WiFi technology: 802.11ac Wave 2. "When you only upgrade every eight years," she asserted, "you have to get the latest and greatest." E&H decided to start now by installing the technology of the future – some of which will not come into play for about a year. With a campus that's small (1,100 students) and remote ("Our neighbors are cows") in the beautiful Appalachian Highlands, E&H has to work harder to accommodate its students – 85 percent of whom live on campus.

Sean O'Connor, assistant CIO for Worcester Polytechnic Institute (MA), is also opting for Wave 2, but for different reasons. "We want to be more agile for students and faculty," O'Conner said. "We're upgrading to support the mission of our school. Since we are a technical-based university, our students, faculty and staff expect this type of leading-edge service. This generation of students [about 4,200 undergrad and 1,900 grad students] expects mobile connectivity everywhere. They want the ‘Wow' factor, and we want to have them excited about what we're doing." He added, "It's what you can do with mobile devices that makes the difference."

802.11ac is well on its way to becoming the standard for next-generation WiFi. The gigabit speed, improved capacity and reliability that 802.11ac brings to wireless LANs (WLANs) are essential as mobile users, devices and application usage continue to grow rapidly. Going forward, both Abraham and O'Connor agree that 802.11ac is the most relevant wireless out there. Whether it's Wave 1 (now up and running), Wave 2 (just coming over the horizon) or a combination of the two, it's critical that the infrastructure catch up with the proliferation of devices. "Technology is a support mechanism," O'Connor noted. "With the new technology in place, we can give both students and faculty a better product."

Wave 1 vs. Wave 2

In terms of deciding between Wave 1 and Wave 2, "the solution is timing," according to Christian Gilby, director of product marketing for enterprise networking provider Aruba. "The Wave 2 certification program isn't available yet from the WiFi Alliance. I expect Aruba to start the certification of access points (APs) in early 2016, but it will be six months until there are a good number of Wave 2 clients from smartphone, tablet and laptop manufacturers." He suggested that schools invest their dollars in Wave 2 APs today: "This way, you can get all the benefits of Wave 1 now and be ready to take advantage of Wave 2 when clients become available."

"Our students have never lived in a world without broadband," said Abraham. "They see it as a utility rather than as a luxury. When students complained about access, we went to a gig — which was overwhelming to our network. Even though it was faster, it slowed down our outmoded network. As of the end of the calendar year, we're going to 2 gigs."

"We started the process about a year-and-a-half ago," commented O'Connor. "Our users were wanting more and more connectivity. Mobility was becoming bigger, and we wanted to be more agile for both students and faculty. We doubled our structure, going from 700 APs to 1,450." The upgrade includes all residence halls, classrooms, academic buildings and Greek houses on the network. O'Connor noted that the old network had problems supporting students in classes. "Most students have two to three devices on them," he said. "It was not a good experience in the classroom. Now, after about a year mapping out the infrastructure, the bandwidth and the mobility are there for them." He added that his institution plans to use Wave 2 in classrooms, student gathering places (such as the rec center and student center) and in places that host major events, such as Career Fair.

When to Buy

"Eight years ago, we had 100 percent ubiquitous wireless access," said Abraham. "On our 333-acre campus, you could get wireless access anywhere there were clusters or buildings. We were ahead of the game. Now we've been eclipsed." One of the reasons for this, Abraham explained, is that the E&H network was capitalized and not operationalized. "We bought when we needed it, rather than as part of the operation. Now, because of the strides we've made in the last few years, we're moving to the operational model." E&H plans to have about 500 new APs installed and all dorms and classroom buildings updated by the end of the spring semester in May.

"We want to be on the cutting edge of wireless technology," said Abraham. "That's why we're ahead of the game and ready and waiting for Wave 2."

"The difference between Wave 1 and Wave 2 is the support of multi-user MIMO [multiple input, multiple output] within the AP," said O'Connor. "Wave 1 was a huge one-up on the previous version. A lot more folks could join, and there was more bandwidth. Wave 2 will be doing that again, with even more connectivity and more bandwidth." He added, however, that Wave 2 is more expensive to install than Wave 1, so it's a matter of economics. "We won't waste money on Wave 2 if it's not needed. In the more congested locations, Wave 2 is worth the additional expense."

O'Connor recommended that schools considering the upgrade identify their needs and choose the type of AP that makes sense. "You need to understand your user base," he concluded. "Consider what you'll need in order to bring student devices into your realm. Everything depends on your infrastructure."

Five Steps to Successfully Migrate to 802.11ac

Whether you are an early adopter who has already started planning, or are unsure of your next step, the following guidelines from Aruba will help you to prepare and plan for a successful migration to an 802.11ac WLAN.

1) Audit current infrastructure. Since 802.11ac is all about gigabit WiFi, it is important that the supporting wired access infrastructure is optimized to deliver the performance that 802.11ac access points (APs) have to offer.

2) Evaluate capacity requirements. As traffic demands continue to grow exponentially, take both current and future demands into consideration when planning for capacity. Determine coverage versus capacity requirements by planning for roaming and determining access point density and channels based on bandwidth demands and application prioritization, not just on coverage.

3) Evaluate radio frequency (RF) requirements. Virtual planning tools can provide a basic foundation in planning for standard deployments, but an additional physical survey is recommended for complex deployments to verify AP locations and signal coverage. In most cases, 1-for-1 replacements are not viable for building an optimal 802.11ac network, especially in complex deployments or when moving from an older 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n network.

4) Choose the right APs. Once all of the preliminary evaluations are complete, choose APs and antenna types that are best suited for the environment to provide optimal performance and RF coverage.

5) Determine a deployment plan. New deployments are fairly easy to plan but, if a phased approach is preferred, it is important to understand that how you roll it out could impact performance and user experience.

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