Over the last decade, more of the technology that is used in education and in our daily lives began to rely on having some kind of network connection. The acceleration of this trend in the last few years caused problems for colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Illinois.
The prevalence of wireless devices on campus has created expectations from students and faculty for increased wireless coverage and availability. At the same time, the explosion of the number of new devices on campus places greater burdens on the existing wireless network. With predictions of even more devices and objects relying on network connectivity in the future, now is the time to improve the wireless experience at Illinois.
The immediate problem: the device explosion
In 2006, wireless was at best a luxury, and at worst, a slower alternative to a wired connection. At the time, the University of Illinois had only 500 Wireless Access Points (WAPs) across the entire campus.
Then in 2007, the first iPhone was released. Almost overnight, having a good connection without wires went from being a luxury to a necessity. The new devices used either wireless internet connections or cellular data connections. Around the same time, laptops overtook desktops as the preferred computer of choice. The ensuing tidal wave of wireless devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, game consoles), taxed university networks around the country.
The University of Illinois has seen a rise in the number of devices on our wireless network for the past several years. During the first week of classes during the Fall 2014 semester, 45,763 different devices were simultaneously connected to our wireless network (the city of Urbana’s population is 41,581).
The average number of wireless devices a student brings to campus also continues to rise every year. This trend shows no sign of stopping. With students and faculty already experiencing issues using the saturated wireless network on campus, the time to expand and update is now before problems get worse.
The current opportunity: wireless for teaching and learning
Some of the most exciting advancements in teaching and learning in recent years have come from the introduction of technology into the classroom. The introduction of streaming videos, tablets, mobile apps and other technologies have made the classroom so much more than just a lecturer and a chalkboard.
In order to fully leverage blended environments, flipped classrooms and mobile learning, classrooms and labs at the University of Illinois need a robust wireless network in its academic and instructional spaces.
The future investment: The Internet of Things
Many signs point towards a future where everyday objects utilize some kind of network connectivity. Already there are early signs of this market emerging with wearable smart devices (watches, clothing), networked thermostats, wireless refrigerators, and even networked medical devices. Many researchers refer to this phenomenon as The Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things could bring considerable benefits to the University of Illinois. The campus could become more energy efficient by more accurately regulating heating, cooling and electricity through room sensors. Students in their dorms could receive a message from a washing machine when the laundry is done. Parking spaces will announce when they are available. Researchers will be able to use sensors and monitors in the field to conduct more extensive studies. And these are just the current technologies. There are expected to be 75 billion connected devices by 2020.
In order to leverage these future opportunities, the University of Illinois needs to build a network infrastructure that can handle hundreds of thousands of devices at once.
Expansion and upgrade projects will address the current explosion of wireless devices at the University of Illinois, foster the growth of mobile technology in teaching and learning, and create a forward-looking network infrastructure that can support everyday objects routinely connecting to the Internet. Without a robust wireless network, current wireless issues will continue and the University of Illinois will not be able to support and fully leverage the new technologies of the near future.