Building Stronger Connections: How College Campuses Can Enhance Digital Infrastructure
After more than a year of students taking classes and participating in college activities from home, many college campuses are seeking solutions to bring staff and students back safely. Part of the plan is to optimize cellular connections within their buildings to fit the "new normal," in which social distancing continues to be enforced on campus and students attend classes remotely, from anywhere on campus, if needed.
“The main technological challenges on college campuses are connectivity and bandwidth,” said William Shouldis, vice president of engineering at Intenna Systems, a company that provides building-wide wireless solutions.
Shouldis spoke with Bisnow about how college campuses can get their connection up to speed to deal with new realities.
He said that college campuses were used to having a framework in place to accommodate students working at designated locations on their laptops. That model doesn’t work now with students taking classes in their dorms or on their phones while on the go.
“These buildings were not outfitted to support that much user traffic, whether it’s WiFi or cellular-based,” he said.
Shouldis said buildings need the resources to support high volumes of traffic.
“The first step is always going to be evaluating what you have and what you’ll need to meet coverage needs,” Shouldis said. “Intenna Systems' approach is to use a survey to establish the baseline radio frequency in the building. Then, we analyze both the user experience and coverage levels to determine the capacity of the nearby cellular towers serving the campus. From there, we can create a system design according to where the campus needs the most coverage.”
Shouldis said that a university would typically provide its cellular connection through a data hub located in the middle of the campus. From there, to attain an ideal connection, the hub would need fiber optic connectivity to satellite buildings, so that the signals can be dispersed throughout the campus.
“Having optical connectivity and a fiber-deep network between and within buildings is a big part of enabling any kind of communication network,” Shouldis said. “Whether it’s cellular traffic or private networks, it’s all going to have that fiber optic connectivity.”
He added that while a building may have a data hub and access to fiber optics, it will also need to have the right framework in place within the hub. One thing to consider is that each building varies in age and design. Older buildings were not constructed to accommodate an IT closet, or a dedicated space that houses the electrical components and equipment needed to ensure network connectivity. Additionally, while newer IT products would help to increase connectivity, they are often connected to equipment that places short limits on how far the cables can reach.
Intenna’s strategy of creating unique designs for each building helps ensure that they all stay connected, he said.
“While there are features that buildings need to have within their infrastructure, we take these challenging environments and we make them work,” Shouldis said.
Shouldis said that in addition to providing students and staff with a positive user experience, providing a stronger campus-wide network can help boost safety.
“People are sharing bandwidth and resources with students who are trying to do their homework or are streaming and gaming, which means that an emergency audio call can get pushed to the bottom of the queue if it is not prioritized accordingly on the WiFi network,” Shouldis said. “It is important for that kind of critical communication to be serviced by a dedicated infrastructure, which would be on antenna systems that are distributed by wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.”
To ensure that the equipment is optimized for a college campus, Shouldis said building managers and school administrators must work closely with their IT departments. They should also communicate with their wireless carriers to check that the network has the capacity in place to deliver working signals to the campus.
He added that scheduled maintenance is necessary to keep the network operating smoothly.
“I think this infrastructure needs to be treated just like any other IT infrastructure that a campus may have in place,” Shouldis said. “It’s pretty typical for IT networks, whether it's WiFi or building automation or operations, to have maintenance contracts in place and routine maintenance for the systems to make sure that they're optimized.”
Looking toward the future, Shouldis said it is unlikely that college campuses will return to using their college's network the way they did prior to the pandemic. Today’s students will likely continue to see expanded options for where they take their classes, whether it’s in the lecture hall, dorm room or a different part of campus.
“As part of the ‘new normal,’ it’s likely to be permanent in terms of where and how students do their work and what kind of platforms they're using,” Shouldis said. “Going forward, there's always going to be new platforms for different types of use cases and resources. It's not going to go back. It's only going to go forward and increase.”
College campuses that are interested in learning more about developing a comprehensive strategy for increasing speed and connectivity can check out Intenna Systems' blog post.
This article was produced in collaboration between Intenna Systems and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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