The Challenges Of Wi-Fi Guest Access
August 21, 2009
I eventually learned that my experience today with our distinguished visitor was the result of a decision by one of our campus network managers (a very talented guy I personally hired many years ago!) to further throttle back guest bandwidth in preparation for the start of school next week. His goals were understandable, to get as many new students as possible to connect to the wireless network in a secure manner rather than to use the guest access back door to the Internet. Unfortunately, that decision has had a significant adverse impact on campus visitors.
As I was relating this story to our School's IT manager, he thanked me for the information because it helped explain the problems he was experiencing earlier in the week with another campus visitor. We talked about the system the central IT folks have put in place to allow faculty and staff to sponsor campus visitors, providing them with credentials needed to access the secure wireless network. Those processes are well-intended, but they are onerous, requiring manual provisioning of accounts, configuration of client devices, and scanning of systems for malware. The motivation is totally understandable because a sponsored user has full access to campus network resources and these resources, as well as other users on our campus network, need to be protected. However, it is rare that visitors need access to on-campus resources. Give them a wireless Internet connection, preferably with performance measured in megabits per second rather than kilobits per second, and they are happy.
Enterprise wireless vendors have long understood the importance of guest wireless access and most have capabilities to support these services. However, none that I am aware of strike the right balance between making life really easy for visitors while also protecting the legitimate concerns of network managers. Maybe some day.