As a solutions architect focused on LAN and wireless LAN environments, I've worked with hundreds of customers in higher education and K through 12. Many of my recent conversations have been focused heavily on mobility and BYOD initiatives, and meeting their needs. In fact, 76% of colleges struggle to meet bandwidth demands, according to a survey by the Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators.
The BYOD trend has changed how we need to design networks. I 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 include smartphones, laptops, cameras, tablets, 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 wire to connect to the network.
As BYOD 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 assess 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 wired users have become wireless.
The Wireless First strategy is simple in its approach and requires consideration about 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 at a one-to-one ratio, 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 organizations, and they've come to the same conclusion. They're focusing on the WLAN connectivity, security, and management products to support the mobile workforce 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 offering wired connectivity to students in dorm areas only for a monthly fee. Wireless was readily available on campus and performed very well due to the school's investment in its 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 model encourages broad adoption and utilization of the robust campus wireless and helps defray the cost of investing in wired solutions for 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 that may fit your 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 real bandwidth demands.
Michael Louis is a senior solutions architect with NWN Corporation, consulting with many of NWN's largest customers in the enterprise, commercial, and educational sectors on data center and networking solutions.