Supporting the Connected Learner: Network Scalability in Higher Education

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Back to school time means college students across the country are eagerly cramming bedding, clothing and (most importantly) their multiple networked devices into dorm rooms that are roughly the size of a coat closet. We’ve all seen scalability in action on campuses throughout the country. Whether funding a dining hall renovation or a greenfield project supporting the expansion of the business school, educational institutions seem to be tireless in their efforts to increase their footprints.

What does that mean for the existing network and what steps can be taken to build upon the old infrastructure? What are the potential challenges they might face when undertaking this sort of project? Until recently, answers to questions like these used to be quite convoluted, but new advancements in cabling technology have proven bigger isn’t always better.

"Nice to Have" versus "Need to Have" 

The average smartphone user checks their device 150 times per day, around 10 times each waking hour. That means most students are looking at their phone about once every six minutes. With that level of activity and demand there’s little tolerance for unreliable networks or potential disconnection.

In this BYOD world, accommodating the connectivity needs for both faculty and students is a top priority. 58 percent of college students own three or more mobile devices, and 87 percent report using their smartphones, laptops or tablets for academic purposes.

Reliance on these devices creates a need for an “always on” network. Students no longer think of connectivity as a bonus or luxury — it’s expected, and essential for academic success. While Wi-Fi connectivity is crucial in supporting that experience, the underground infrastructure is just as essential.

The New Cable on Campus 

In order to support recruitment and retention efforts, new buildings and facilities are consistently added to help the institution stay competitive and relevant. With each new building, a plan for new network infrastructure must be made for as well. Traditionally, this has led to removal of the existing cables and a resulting disruption of connectivity throughout campus.

On campuses, effective use of real estate is a key factor for growth. Smart planning requires maximizing the opportunity for scale by minimizing the current dedicated footprint. These stipulations apply to both campus buildings as well as to the hardware and infrastructure that supports their core functions. In terms minimizing network infrastructure, it doesn’t get any smaller than micro cabling. This new trend can have a significant impact on network expansion by eliminating the interruptions that are typically experienced. The micro cabling process involves swapping loose tube cabling for micro cables and ducts, allowing for easier and less expensive fiber installation.

Little Cables, Big Impact 

What exactly is a micro cable? Just picture a shrunken version of traditional loose tube cable. Micro cables are about 50 percent smaller and nearly 70 percent lighter when compared to standard outside plant cable footprint. This size delta is attributed to a reduction in buffer tube diameter and a thinner outer jacket. Although they can be pulled at low tension over short distances, installation of micro cables usually requires that they’re blown or jetted into micro ducts using air-assisted machines. These micro ducts are typically used to sub-divide internal duct space into smaller compartments. They are available in single or bundled options depending on the need. Loose micro ducts can also be installed into empty or occupied legacy sub-ducts to optimize the use of available existing space. Multi-path bundles allow for flexible, scalable installations that support new high-fiber count and high-density cabling.

What's in it for Higher Ed? 

When it comes to higher education deployments, a micro cabling option adds value in three main ways:

  • Scalable greenfield deployments
    From sky-rise dormitories to palatial brownstones, college campuses seem to go through endless expansion. The jetting technology used during the installation of micro cables allows you to lay pathways making future scalability simple and easy.
  • Pay as you grow flexibility
    The true value of micro technology will be revealed upon performing a capacity upgrade. The only required cost associated with capacity increases for micro cable solutions involves the purchase and installation of new micro cable into existing vacant micro ducts. By comparison, loose tube expansions can incur significant costs for excavation, transportation and storage.
  • Efficient, cost-effective installations
    Micro cable not only enables simple, economical capacity upgrades, but easier, more cost-effective installation. Because the cables are so small, installers can use less-expensive blowing machines, compressors and handholes. In addition, the entire installation project can be managed by as few as three workers – one to operate the blowing machine, another to pay-off the cable from the transportation reel and a third to monitor the cable as it exits the micro duct at the end of the span.

A Future-Ready Solution 

Due to its high-fiber density and small cable design, micro cabling offers a future-ready solution not only in higher education facilities, but across a number of different industries. From local municipalities to, healthcare facilities, to harsh industrial environments, the cost and time savings of micro cable offers value that extends far beyond initial deployment into the infrastructure’s future.


The opinions expressed in this piece are solely Corning's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.


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