College campuses are straining to keep up with wireless connectivity as students carry an increasing number of wireless devices.
Students entering college today have never known a world without the Internet, and they have expectations when they consider where they'll spend their college years. Being connected is part of that expectation, whether it's to their Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, Netflix, YouTube, Spotify or the Web for academic purposes.
But it's not just game consoles and laptops that students are bringing to campus. According to the Association of Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education, the number of students carrying smart phones has tripled since 2009, and the sales of tablet computers, such as iPads, have grown worldwide by more than 250 percent since 2011. But students also are packing laptop computers, iPods and other devices reliant on network connectivity.
"All this technology is becoming a natural part of their lives," said Dr. Roger Von Holzen, interim vice president of information services at Northwest Missouri State University. "Their personal lives and their work lives."
Dr. Von Holzen's first day as a faculty member at Northwest in 1987 coincides with the day they flipped the switch on the "electronic campus," which made Northwest the first comprehensively networked public campus in the nation.
"I don't think we anticipated how rapidly things would change," he said, "especially in the last 10 years. It's not hard to keep up. Part of the challenge is that it's not cheap to keep up."
Northwest has nearly completed a $650,000 upgrade to allow better network access on campus, mostly by replacing network access points that would connect 30 devices to access points that connect 90 devices to the network. The need for the upgrade became clear last August when students arrived on campus, apparently with more wireless devices than in previous years given the impact their return had on the network.
"Everyone is being hit like this," Dr. Von Holzen said, "across the country."
Dr. Von Holzen said there are only so many wireless devices students can carry on them and that they'll see a plateau effect of their capacity issues at some point.
"We'll hit a plateau," he said. "We don't know yet where the plateau is."
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