Wi-Fi 6 technology makes its way to campus

The unprecedented speeds and coverage of Wi-Fi 6 helps campuses keep up with their students’ technological needs.
By: | January 10, 2020
Wi-Fi 6 is able to improve communication between routers and devices—keeping connections strong even as more devices and types of devices are connected.Wi-Fi 6 is able to improve communication between routers and devices—keeping connections strong even as more devices and types of devices are connected.

With the breadth of new tech devices used by students, a reliable campus network is an imperative. A growing number of colleges and universities are moving to Wi-Fi 6, the next-gen of wireless internet. It’s not just fast, but able to improve communication between routers and devices—keeping connections strong even as more devices and types of devices are connected. One indication of the growth in adoption: Wi-Fi 6 provider Aruba has transitioned over 400 higher ed institutions since 2018.

Besides finding a reliable tech provider, successful implementation requires strategic planning.


Also read: Wi-Fi 6 in education whitepaper


Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado began migration to Wi-Fi 6 in 2018 when it became apparent current switches were unable to handle the traffic on its campuses. The density of different devices for each student bogged down network speed, and service black holes popped up all over. “We’re a commuter college with students that make their own work spaces all around campus, and coverage of these holes became more important,” says Jami Everett, senior network administrator of IT support services.

Wi-Fi 6 names and numbers (click on graphic to enlarge)

Wi-Fi 6 names and numbers (click on graphic to enlarge)

As a residential university, Illinois Institution of Technology leaders have witnessed the ratio of one person to one mobile device grow from 1:1 to 1:5—and the number of devices continues to grow. “With the explosion of the Internet of Things, we see ourselves beginning to support items like bulbs, washers, refrigerators, thermostats and locks, to mention a few,” says Ibukun Oyewole, associate chief information officer. Supporting that evolution requires beefing up the network.

The transition to Wi-Fi 6

When deciding on the right Wi-Fi 6 vendor, continuity is key, if possible. “Higher ed institutions have a phased approach in replacing and upgrading the wireless network,” says Oyewole. Seamless integration with existing infrastructure is ideal.

Since a network is only as fast as its slowest mechanism, the transition has to happen all at once.

Pikes Peak officials chose one of its smaller campuses to perform a trial run. Working with Meraki, IT staff set up new devices next to the old ones to begin. Challenges included how to best initially segment traffic, as PPCC’s guest network is separate from its other infrastructure, says Everett.


Also read: More bandwidth coverage for campus residential networks


After the preliminary campus was wired, IT staff switched over devices on the others. Switch installment took place on a Friday afternoon when there was a small amount of users to interrupt, but some activity to test on the network. Older switches offered only 1 gig of support each, while new switches push out 5. And as administrators realize, it paid to be strategic about that switch.

Stefanie Botelho is newsletter editor of UB.


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