As a solutions architect focused on LAN/WLAN solutions, I’ve worked with hundreds of customers in the higher education and K-12 space. Many of these conversations have been focused heavily on mobility and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives. In fact, 76% of colleges struggle to meet bandwidth demands.
The BYOD trend has changed how we need to design networks. I’ll call this methodology “Wireless First.”
Wireless First is an approach to LAN access layer design focusing on the fact that a majority of users connect via the WLAN today versus the wired LAN, especially in BYOD environments (where devices range from smart phones, laptops, cameras, iPhones, iPads, and more). As these devices become more ubiquitous, more users than ever before are connecting to the network via a wireless access point instead of a traditional wired port. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, including wired IP phones, printers, and even the access points themselves that still require a traditional wired port to connect to the network.
As the BYOD demand has ballooned, many customers question whether it’s necessary to continue to deploy as many wired ports. In the past, it was common practice to access current port usage, apply a growth factor, and replace all wired network switch ports with newer switching equipment. This approach is changing since many of the traditional wired users have now become wireless.
The Wireless First strategy is pretty simple in its approach and requires consideration about both wired and wireless needs to be successful. When planning a LAN access layer design it pays significant financial benefit to consider the end user’s connectivity method. Instead of starting the design with a wired LAN port count and refreshing 1:1, why not approach the design by supporting WLAN connectivity to all end points FIRST and wired LAN connectivity SECOND?
The safe assumption is that a large portion of your access layer users will be WLAN users and the rest will be printers, IP phones, wired devices, access points, etc. Spend money on the WLAN first, along with the necessary LAN to support it, and then focus on the remaining wired port requirements. This approach will certainly help with BYOD projects, freeing up capital that would be spent on wasted wired capacity and enabling more investment in more access points.
I’ve discussed this Wireless First approach with several large customers and they’ve come to the same conclusion. They’re focusing on the WLAN connectivity, security, and management products to support the mobile work force FIRST. This is especially true in the education sector and it has proven very successful.
One interesting example brought to my attention was a higher education organization that was considering not offering wired connectivity to students in dorm areas at all without a monthly fee. Wireless was readily available on campus and performed very well due to the organization’s investment in their WLAN, but the infrastructure costs for wired switching equipment was expensive. Thus, the organization proposed that students who wanted a wired port in their dorm room would pay a surcharge for it. This would encourage broad adoption and utilization of the robust campus wireless and help defray the cost of investing in wired solutions for just a handful of special cases.
We all know from our own of experiences that the Wireless First strategy is not going to fit every situation, but it’s a growing trend we’re seeing in all sectors of our business. Network designs have a very real financial impact on organizations. In some cases, adopting the Wireless First approach can make the difference between being able to deploy an extensive, robust WLAN and struggling to meet the real bandwidth demands.
Note: This article was first published at InformationWeek.