More bandwidth, greater coverage for campus residential networks

Significant support for better Wi-Fi across campus—even from non-IT administrators

The days of prospective students inquiring about Wi-Fi coverage areas on admissions tours have probably come to an end. Wi-Fi is here, there and everywhere, with nearly three in four colleges offering Wi-Fi throughout more than 80% of their campuses, according to the “ACUHO-I 2019 State of ResNet Report.”

To that end, institutional leaders are finding ways to stretch their IT budgets to keep up with student expectations related to Wi-Fi coverage and speed in residence halls and elsewhere. Annual IT budgets that total more than $2.5 million nearly tripled in the past year.

Published by the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, the report is based on responses from 351 administrators (45% IT administrators, 38%  housing officers, and 17% business officers) representing 200 institutions.

Support for residential networks among non-IT campus leaders has grown. “Both surprising and encouraging is the one-year increase in percentage of business officers who support Wi-Fi across the entire campus,” says Mary DeNiro, CEO of ACUHO-I. That percentage is up to 68% in this year’s survey, compared to 57% last year. “Business officers are quickly understanding that a comprehensive ResNet is critical to attracting campus residents and keeping them productive,” she adds.

Nearly all business officers (98%) surveyed see connectivity as critical to upholding the university mission. While IT leaders certainly understand the value of connectivity, ACUHO-I officials like to be able to “paint a clearer picture of how non-IT administrators interface with IT and its strategic and mission-support value,” DeNiro says.

Bandwidth boost

Forget the excitement over bandwidths of 1GB. One in 3 colleges now offer 7GB or more. “As more and more devices and wearables enter the market, it’s difficult to imagine that higher bandwidth isn’t at least on the minds of IT staff at most campuses,” DeNiro says. However, she adds, how much of a priority it is depends on a number of factors, such as whether the institution has bandwidth dedicated to ResNet, the number of beds, or the portfolio of activities using bandwidth across the entire campus.

Of the schools surveyed this year, 16% outsource their ResNet services, a 6% increase from 2016. Keeping up with technology, improving ResNet services, and boosting student satisfaction and retention ranked as the top three reasons for outsourcing. In addition, IPTV outsourcing is also up, with 30% of respondents doing so now, a 22% increase since 2016.

As for BYOD, count restrictions are easing, the survey found. Nearly three out of four colleges now allow students to connect an unlimited number of devices to their network.

“Capping the number of devices was a transitional bandwidth management tactic as campuses grappled with the rapid onset of changes in consumer technology,” DeNiro says. “Now that the plane has steadied a bit and residents have come to expect to be able to connect their phones, tablets, game systems, smart home devices and so on, campuses are adopting more long-term bandwidth management solutions.”

Tech support timing struggles

The current state of ResNet does tend to leave students who are pulling all-nighters in the lurch when it comes to tech support services—with old-school help desks still serving as the prevailing model at most institutions.

On-site or walk-in, phone and email support are still the norm, as opposed to newer methods such as social media and text support. Students have only a 1 in 4 chance of getting live support during the wee hours of the morning.

“Around-the-clock tech support is still very cost prohibitive for many campuses, and changing support service delivery models is a mid- to long-term effort,” DeNiro says. “New school” models, she adds, are generally dependent on economies of scale. Larger institutions serving more campus residents are more likely to implement virtual and 24/7 service models. In the future, however, she sees providing after-hours support to residents as nonnegotiable.

Looking ahead

ResNet strategic planning has become a more common pursuit. In the past four years, the survey found, the number of institutions updating such strategic plans annually has risen to 21%, an increase of 8%. Some, 7%, are now even taking on the process twice a year.

“I certainly think that administrators should continue to keep a close watch on IT strategy,” DeNiro says. “Given how quickly technology is integrating into the academic space, the stakes are much higher for campuses where ResNet has relatively more service interruptions.”

Read the full report and see its accompanying infographic here.

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