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Air Time: A Wireless Education

When students return to campus this month, most will be counting mobile computing and communications devices as their most valued possessions. Many are fresh off summer appeals to parents, arguing that sending them back without the right tools will dampen their prospects of academic success. Others have opted to spend their summer job money on a mobile technology upgrade.

The buying habits of college students are leading mobility indicators, providing insights into future trends and driving short-term decisions of cellular companies and campus IT staffs. That's because students are demanding that schools transform campus wireless networks from hotspot convenience services into critical network infrastructures.

The laptop is now the platform of choice for college students, whose nomadic nature makes notebooks such a big win. Increasingly, students work on group projects that mirror the business world and carrying your computer to a group meeting is becoming the norm.

The proliferation of notebook computers on campuses is driving the development of key mobile technologies, including Wi-Fi infrastructure and network access control. Campus IT is wrestling with the most troublesome enterprise Wi-Fi issues, including mobility, security, scalability and guest access. Designers are facing pressure to Wi-Fi-enable everything--from the deepest recesses of historical buildings to packed residence halls and apartments to outdoor public spaces. Many are migrating from older smart APs to controller-based architectures, and universities are also moving from captive-portal authentication to WPA. Because central IT can't realistically manage student computers like a business might manage employee systems, they're finding new ways to assess, quarantine and remediate systems that arrive running all varieties of malware.

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