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Emerging Wireless Technology Trends on Campus – Part 4

By Mike Collado
October 31st, 2013

In the preceding posts, we discussed the imbalance between students who consume more wireless capacity than any other demographic and college IT Departments who in spite of shrinking and highly-scrutinized budgets own the challenge of addressing this “data tsunami”.

We then explored how Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are being deployed to solve for network densification and  increasingly enable coverage for indoor and campus-wide public-safety communications.

However, there often remains a funding disparity. There’s a business use case for wireless operators to fund a stadium or the university to fund a hospital but it’s more difficult to build a funding model that includes deploying DAS in dormitories and other campus buildings.

Today we examine where Wi-Fi fits in to the campus wireless toolkit.

DAS Alone May Not Be Sufficient

DAS may not be enough – nor appropriate – to satisfy the capacity requirements.

For example, on game day, the University of Tennessee attracts more than 100,000 fans to Neyland Stadium (a SOLiD DAS Deployment). Demand for capacity for that number of people can strain carriers’ RAN (radio access network), which manifests itself on the user’s handset as showing full-bar signal strength but being unable to upload a photo to, say, Facebook.

That’s where an important campus asset can come into play: unlicensed spectrum on the university’s Wi-Fi network.

Like DAS, Wi-Fi helps augment the macro network. Wi-Fi is attractive because these bands are free and wide -offering big channels to stream data.

And also like DAS, Wi-Fi technology is not new.

But unlike DAS, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum.

Recent protocols enable wireless data networks to be more robust.

Still, Wi-Fi does not possess the bandwidth and throughput of wired networks.

Campus IT departments must move Access Point (AP) locations, or add additional APs, to deliver services as capacity requirements continually change and increase. And physically shifting infrastructure adds to costs.

There Are No Silver Bullet Solutions

The reality is that there are no silver bullet solutions to wireless communications challenges.

Today’s “toolkit” includes DAS and Wi-Fi and will soon be joined by small cell technology.

Small cells, akin to Wi-Fi AP, are a local base station but differ by using cellular standards.

User requirements vis-à-vis capacity throughput are driving changes that will occur to technology infrastructure, and this will have a profound impact on funding, tracking and monetizing such investments.

Next Post: Near-term and next-generation technology solutions

Note: A version of this article was originally published in 2013 Fall ACUTA Journal.

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