American University of Beirut

American University of Beirut started upgrading to the latest standard Wi-Fi to enable smart learning for students and ideal connectivity for staff, visitors, and patients.

New 802.11ac Wi-Fi network facilitates collaboration among 800 faculty members, 8,000 students, and ensures hundreds of staff, visitors, and patients of the Medical Center enjoy high performance Wi-Fi connectivity.

To keep pace with the explosion in the number of Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices across its education and healthcare facilities, AUB recognized the obvious need to upgrade to the latest 802.11ac wireless standard which offers Gigabit speeds and an ability to support the influx of those devices.

In an attempt to stay up to date with the latest wireless networking standards, AUB’s over 11 year old legacy wireless infrastructure had already undergone numerous refresh cycles. Over the years, this had resulted in a number of upgrades to the niversity’s legacy wireless infrastructure. Until recently, these upgrades were sufficient to keep the network up to date with the latest wireless networking standards.

As one of the leaders in Higher Education and Healthcare, AUB was quick to adopt 802.11ac technology to address the growth in the number of Wi-Fi enabled devices and enhance the services and functionalities of our wireless ecosystem. AUB also saw this deployment as essential to empowering the growing AUB Private Cloud and enabling the BYOD concept.
Mohammad Abbass, Network and Data Communication Director, AUB

But the University is now witnessing exponential growth in the number of Wi-Fi enabled devices being brought onto its premises. However, the legacy 802.11b/g Wi-Fi network suffers limited device capacity and limited mobility as it had been developed with an 11 year old design based on portability of user devices rather than mobility. These shortcomings also placed a spoke in the wheel of the Management’s desires to introduce ‘smart learning’ solutions.

American University Beirut

“Students want to stream video lectures from anywhere. High-performance, high-density Wi-Fi is vital to this and we knew that it would offer us the opportunity to look at teaching in a new way,” said Mohammad Khaled Joujou, Assistant to the Dean for Laboratories and Facilities, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, AUB.

Students weren’t the only ones keen to use mobile smart devices on campus. “University employees use the network for administration, meetings, and events. It’s common to see everyone surfing on laptops and tablets,” said Mohammad Abbass, Network and Data Communication Director, AUB. “We forecast over 27% growth in the number of devices on campus and its adjoined Medical Center every year and we need to make sure that our Wi-Fi network would be ready for it.”

Building a WLAN Platform for Innovation

To prepare its network for this projected growth and to be able to leverage the wireless infrastructure as a platform for innovation in smart learning and collaboration, AUB decided to invest in an 802.11ac Wi-Fi solution that could meet both present and future requirements. 802.11ac, also called Gigabit Wi-Fi, considerably enhances wireless experiences. The standard takes many of the best techniques that the Wi-Fi industry has learned about 802.11n/a/b/g/n and adds a number of impressive enhancements to them. These improvements include wider channels, higher-rate modulation, and higher-level MIMO. All of them are evolutionary and together they offer a top speed that is 10 times that of 802.11n.

Because Wi-Fi is a shared resource, the added capacity delivered by 802.11ac comes in handy as wireless device density and bandwidth consumption grow simultaneously. The effects of this trend are especially intense on university campuses and medical centers such as those of AUB.

Building on Success with Best of Breed for Future Needs

American University Beirut

Being an IT veteran and having used Aruba’s 11a/b/g/n solutions in the past, Mr. Abbass was already solidly convinced of the quality, performance, and reliability of Aruba Networks’ technologies. He was particularly impressed by the performance that Aruba’s 802.11ac solution could deliver across the University campus and Medical Center. Focusing on the ultimate goal of moving to a complete 802.11ac infrastructure, Mr. Abbass and his team turned once again to Aruba for the upgrade. “We’ve relied on Aruba since 2004,” he said. “Aruba’s customer first, customer last culture is very visible to us. Pre and post-sales, the products and the support are always excellent.”

The University’s pre-existing Aruba wireless infrastructure meant that the new solution could be easily integrated. “Aruba maintains backward compatibility. This allows us to upgrade as gradually as required to meet our budget goals. That’s a sizable value for us.” said Mr. Abbass. He also outlined the market leading capabilities of the Aruba 802.11ac product line and its unique Client Match algorithms and strong Deep Packet Inspection engines; the fruitful 11-years long relationship with the vendor; and the dedicated support extended by both Aruba and its local partner Triple C; as the main factors behind his decision to stick with Aruba. Working directly with Aruba Networks and its partner Triple C, the AUB IT team rolled-out the implementation that took on average 2-3 weeks for each of the two buildings.

Intelligent WiFi for Optimized Performance.
Aruba Networks’ software-based Adaptive Radio Management technology automatically assigns channel and power settings for all access points on AUB’s wireless network and carries out patented client match algorithms which ensure that every device is connected to the best Access Point and best band. The solution also enforces channel load balancing to evenly distribute clients across available channels in a given area in order to avoid overloading a single channel or Access Point. “All this is done automatically and without need for manual intervention. We have therefore been able to realize far superior performance improvement without addition to management overheads,” says Mr. Abbass.

In late 2014, 2,400 unique devices were connected to the new 802.11ac part of the wireless network with an average of three to five devices per student and university employee. The number of concurrent users peaked at 600 in that part alone. “During high density events like registration and final exams, we see upwards of 800 users on the 802.11ac part of the network- all at the same time. Despite this, the performance has always been first-rate,” Mr. Abbass says.

Besting the BYOD Challenge
Like many other institutions, AUB has been experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of personal, mobile, and wireless devices its students and staff are bringing onto its campus and Medical Center. The newly deployed 802.11ac WLAN infrastructure plays a pivotal role in providing these users with exceptional connectivity. “We now have students bringing an average of three wireless devices per person to campus for communication, entertainment, and academic purposes. In addition, we encourage our faculty to use the network and mobile devices to drive student learning in and out of the classroom.”

“Aruba is helping us realize our goal of keeping all of these users connected in a stable and secure manner, anytime and anywhere, across the entire campus. The solution and its robust management tools have been extremely critical in making this happen,” said Mr. Abbass.

A Start for Smart Learning
“Our students rely very heavily on computer-based lessons, so if networks go down, or if students can’t connect through a steady connection, there is a direct impact on their learning experience,” says Mr. Abbass. “But the stability and speed of the Aruba’s 802.11ac solution ensures that our students do not face any such issues. It has also given us the confidence to expand the deployment of Aruba 802.11ac across campus and the Medical Center and to start looking at new smart learning solutions for which such a Wi-Fi infrastructure is a prerequisite.”