Building the Next-Gen Campus WLAN

By Rowell Dionicio, Blog Contributor
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Upgrading your campus to the next-gen WLAN is a challenging task. Whether the campus is migrating to an entirely new solution or an upgrade is in the works, there are considerations to keep in mind.


The next-gen WLAN is not based upon futile metrics such as the number of access points per user or per square feet. That's the wrong way to approach appropriate design. It doesn't take actual capacity and device density into consideration.

Identifying the number of access points on campus will depend on the actual requirements that need to be met. Various workloads of applications and the number of users will yield a certain amount of access points. It's a mistake to make arbitrary guesses.

Major sections of the campus will require separate planning requirements such as lecture halls or dorms. Both have different types of user traffic patterns. The former may resemble more of a high-density area, the latter is more similar to hospitality.

In every case, no matter what the difference in requirements, lack of proper planning will translate to poor user experience.

What Do You Need

A completed design will produce a list of hardware requirements. There are varying access point specifications to select from. Does the design require the top-of-the-line access points? Or can access points with fewer features be used in selected areas? Should all the same hardware be purchased for simplicity and conformity? Maintaining conformity will be easy to achieve but it may increase the overall cost.

Access points will be either assigned to an on-premises controller or managed in the cloud. That raises the question of which one should you go with? It depends on the requirements. Are there enough IT staff members on the team with knowledge and expertise in managing an on-premises controller? Or will simplicity in cloud-managed Wi-Fi be ideal, especially when updates and features are more frequent. Cloud managed Wi-Fi has its own challenges, including costs for hosting the management application in the cloud and connectivity requirements, so make sure you do your homework before choosing your solution.

The features will determine which platform to select. Will troubleshooting methods be necessary to fulfill the support of the campus WLAN? Or can those advanced features be looked over with emphasis on support from the vendor? And how responsive is that vendor to the issues being seen first-hand?

There is no easy answer to on-premises or cloud but by developing a list of needs and desires can guide you to the solution.

Future Proofing

You cannot fully future proof campus Wi-Fi. There is only a life cycle. Access point and client hardware change every 3-5 years. Client devices most often get updated before the WLAN infrastructure does.

When it comes to 802.11 standards, the clients are the slowest to adopt these new features. Because of this, it's not the best idea to be bleeding edge with campus Wi-Fi.

One way to maintain high user experience is to have a sound design built to requirements. For example, the campus won't be able to fully utilize channel bonding of 80 MHz and 160 MHz channel widths. While the lure of high bandwidth transmissions from client to AP is tempting, there aren't enough channels to reuse without causing self-inflicted Wi-Fi issues.

802.11 technology will change but the campus will slowly migrate. The user base will drive these changes as they begin to take over the network. Take a look at your Wireless NMS and find out what type of clients are using the Wi-Fi network.


The time has come to upgrade to the next-gen campus WLAN. What's the best approach to transitioning to the new hardware? Whether there is a transition to a new vendor or just upgrading the same vendor, the approach should be planned.

When it comes to upgrading the same vendor hardware, start the transition at the building level. Within the building, upgrade the access points per floor. For long project migrations, it creates a much cleaner transition if you maintain the same hardware per floor and per building.

Rip and replace is a fantasy in the campus. It's difficult to perform even under ideal circumstances and the investment up-front is large. When migrating vendors, there will be a transition period of managing a multi-vendor WLAN environment. Start with one side of the campus and steadily replace the hardware. Avoid having multi-vendor hardware in the same building as roaming and communication between vendor hardware will not occur.


Plan your next-gen campus WLAN carefully. Base the solution upon the needs of the users and aim for great user experience. Don't make the mistake of guessing what hardware is needed. Make sure you know your requirements before purchasing any hardware. Once the transition to the new WLAN has been completed begin optimizing. Keep updated with the 802.11 standards being released in the future and revisit the WLAN life cycle.