Colleges Struggle with Students’ Broadband Demands

It’s not the number of devices being brought onto campus these days that is challenging the bandwidth that campuses can offer.  It’s the type of use.

That’s the struggle that many campuses are facing these days.  10,000 students on campus now mean a laptop, an iPad or other tablet, and maybe a Kindle or other such device, per student.  But the real issue is with the amount of high-bandwidth usage these devices require.  I’m a mother of a grown son and a teenager.  And I can tell you what they spend most of their time doing online:  video.  Lots and lots of video.  YouTube is this generation’s MTV (I know, I’m dating myself horribly).  It’s what’s on all the time. Then there’s the streaming movies they watch, and television shows, and instruction lectures related to their school work and other activities.

It all adds up.  And what happens is that those big open pipes that were serving campus well three or four years ago are no longer serving campus efficiently.  I know my former campus was struggling with whether or not to open up the wireless network fully, rather than keeping it throttled to discourage use.  The fact was, that availability of wireless bandwidth was really no longer a matter of providing something nice for them to use.  It became critical for instruction and academic use.  And that demand isn’t going to go away.  In fact, it’s likely to grow.

Forward-thinking campuses planned for this eventuality.  Forward-thinking campuses are thinking about expansion but having the luxury of installing ahead of when they need it.  Campuses that didn’t look ahead are struggling to catch up, and they may never do so.

How important is a bandwidth-heavy campus?  Ask any student.  These are expectations they have when paying that hefty tuition to a school.  They can get free wireless bandwidth most places they go; when it comes to where they “live,” (on campus) they expect it to be as good as what they had at home.  They expect it to fulfill their needs.

This is not to say that campuses aren’t still throttling bandwidth.  Some are, especially during peak times.  But the horse is out of the barn on this one.  The bandwidth has been available, and it will need to continue to be available, in bigger and bigger doses.

That’s the world we live in.  That’s the world these students live in.  Campuses are going to have to work harder at catching up, and even harder if they want to stay ahead of the curve.