• 12/17/2013
    12:06 PM
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BYOD Got You Down? Think Wireless First

Universities and large businesses are supporting the influx of wireless users and BYOD by beefing up the wireless LAN and going Wireless First.

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.



Wireless and BYOD


It makes a lot of sense to beef up your wireless. With BYOD most of those devices are connecting to the WLAN. I'm not a fan of BYOD but in certain applications, like a university, it makes perfect sense.

Re: Wireless and BYOD

Paul, I agree. Assuming users will be wireless and then making exceptions for those who will not be makes sense to me too. I bet businesses have a lot could learn form universities about BYOD, since most of their users have always been bringing their own devices.

Cost savings?

Mike, this is some great advice for readers, obviously coming from the voice of experience. I'm wondering about the cost difference between wired vs wireless networks. It seems to me that not having to run cables and ports,  -- especially in a dense area like a dorm, or an office for that matter -- would save a lot of money in installation and maintenance. Do you have any sense of whether institutions are saving money with wireless?

Re: Cost savings?


Thanks for your reply. The cost savings from deploying dense WLAN versus wired LAN in some situations are definitely there. Deploying LAN cabling in older buildings is particularly expensive. WLAN installations can require less cabling and switch ports (1 cable per Access point versus dedicated LAN cabling per user) for the same basic connectivity in a given area. APs can support lots of users at high speed, even though they are shared medium. Since many of the users in university settings today rely predominantly on WLAN for mobile device connectivity you are going to end up deploying WLAN in most areas anyways. Forgoing the installation of additional LAN cabling not required for WLAN or building services (electronic door locks, cameras, etc.) can result in a lot of cost savings. Consider the cost of cabling to each user + networking switching hardware and maintenance costs. The cost can really add up if you are deploying LAN switches with 50 percent of the switch ports unused due to WLAN adoption.  In addition, since the access points are relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of LAN switches, some customers don't even carry maintenance on access points, and thus don't incur ongoing on maintenance on the APs themselves. They just use spares. 

I think you will find that in some of these cases, like the dorm use above, you will see that adopting WLAN first and end-user-LAN cabling second will result in less overall cabling and network switching hardware freeing up money to spend elsewhere (security, addition WLAN services, etc.). I can't say that there will never be a need for LAN hard wired ports in some cases like this, just that as we move to more mobile computing platforms we are seeing a growing trend of overbuilt LAN capacity that can be eliminated and added back as capacity is required.

Re: Cost savings?

I'm quite surprised that universities are bothering with LAN ports -- especially in  new dorm construction. With Gen Y growing up with practically ubiquitous wifi and mobile hot spots. I wonder if these coeds would even know what to do with the cable!  

Re: Cost savings?

Mike, thanks for your response! It looks like a large university (or a large business) could potentially save a lot of money over time, if they think about this before they implement.