Those of you that read my blog posts know that I love to talk about customers and Cisco technology. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Richard Atkin, Cisco Champion and Head of Technical Solution Development at ITGL, a Cisco Gold partner based in the U.K.
Following some discussions about the weather (always great in California), the economy (don’t get me started), and hobbies (hiking and ping pong for me), our conversation shifted to a customer he’s been working with called Bath Spa University and their Wi-Fi 6E transformation project.
Bath Spa University located in picturesque, Bath England, has a stunning campus, steeped in history with period buildings and lush green spaces. It caters to students across academic disciplines and has been recognized as one of the top universities in the U.K. The university boasts an impressive 95% employment/reeducation rate for undergraduates and an even higher 98%, for graduates.
Within this traditional academic environment lives a high-tech network that connects campus buildings, common areas, and student housing. This same network also connects people and things to the internet, along with applications and school resources as part of the university’s modern learning model.
The case for upgrading
When COVID hit, the university, like most institutions, didn’t have a plan for distance learning but with a little help and ingenuity from their talented IT staff, they were able to get things in line pretty quickly. However, Richard noted that “the demand on the wireless networks increased hugely with more load from video traffic as people attempted to communicate with lecturers and with each other.” And as students are returning to campus, he said that “Remote learning is a long-term priority as students look for flexibility in how they learn.”
That said, it was clear their aging wired and wireless network was struggling to support an ever-growing number of devices and increased demand from universities and students.
It was this realization that drove Bath Spa University to seek guidance from Richard and ITGL on upgrading its network. They quickly determined that for their high-density environment, the route to take was Wi-Fi 6E. Richard shared, “As a Cisco Champion, I was aware of the Catalyst 9136 Wi-Fi 6E AP and was able to introduce the platform to them very early on.”
Out with the old, in with the new
As an existing Cisco customer, Bath Spa was familiar with Cisco equipment and software, but things have changed a bit since their last refresh. AireOS was the operating system they’d been using for nearly a decade and the new Catalyst APs and controllers they bought make use of IOS XE. Richard explained that as with any new technology there’s a learning curve. However, he noted, “They had no issues and picked it up in no time.”
The new solution consists of Cisco Catalyst 9136 series Wi-Fi 6E access points, Catalyst 9800 wireless controllers, and Catalyst 9000 switches. Together this solution will empower students and staff now and into the foreseeable future with the power and reliability to deliver immersive experiences from anywhere on the campus network.
The Cisco Catalyst 9136 access points are suited for mission-critical, high-density requirements. They sport a healthy array of radios in the 2.4, 5, and 6GHz band as well as built-in environmental sensors, BLE, and powered USB ports that enable third-party application hosting capabilities.
Additionally, these access points make use of CleanAir Pro and AI-enhanced RRM to mitigate co-channel interference, intelligent band steering to make the most of the 6GHz spectrum, Fastlane+ to ensure prioritization of latency-sensitive apps on iPhone and iPad devices, Intel Connectivity Analytics, and Samsung Analytics to provide agentless device insights, and more. The goal is to provide the best possible experiences for all users, no matter the device.
Testing and configuring
The Cisco Catalyst solution has gone through extensive testing and trials to ensure it’s ready to meet the needs of students and staff when they return to campus in the fall. This includes ensuring proper design and layout of the network to mitigate interference, optimize band usage, and ensure placement, power levels, and all other device characteristics are set up to take full advantage of this powerful new network. The network is just over halfway deployed with the reminder to be completed in the next month or so.