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How to Reduce Access Friction on Student Housing Internet Systems

Student Housing Internet Systems

Satisfy student residents instantly with seamless Internet access across devices.

Student residents hate friction. They want to access to whatever they want, whenever they want, on whichever device they choose, with no additional steps required between the initial thought and the final result. So student housing Internet delivery systems should be designed for “zero friction” in the user experience (UX).

Whether wired or wireless, student-housing Internet access systems often require students to either log on to access the Internet or to register the device they are using to obtain permission to access the network. This allows the network operator to know who is accessing the network, and through which device, so the operator can take remedial action if something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, this approach has two drawbacks. First, it generates myriad help desk tickets, especially during the crucial move-in period. Second, residents dislike it because the mechanisms frequently get in the way of Internet access. The typical student housing resident is looking for a frictionless experience. 

Thankfully, in most cases, student-housing networks can be run with little friction. Network management tools and techniques can maintain network integrity while letting network personnel remove the friction.

The result is happier residents, and happier residents means higher satisfaction, which translates into higher occupancy.

For the purposes of this discussion, in a wired environment, we use the “best buy” test (not to be confused with the electronics store) to determine if an environment is frictionless. In the best-buy test, a resident can buy any connectible wired device from a store, take it back to the apartment, connect it to any jack and have it just work without additional steps. 

In a wireless environment, we can apply the best-buy test in the same way, with one small caveat: As with almost all wireless networks, a wireless password may be required when first connecting.

But student-housing operators have many objections to this approach. They’re not necessarily warranted. Here’s why: 

Objection #1: Too many wireless devices connected at once will make the system slow for others.

Solution: Design your network with adequate density, plus headroom. Your network design should allow for at least 10 wireless devices per bed space.

Objection #2: We need residents to register devices that do not have browsers (e.g., game consoles), as we have no way of making them log on.

Solution: Don’t make anybody log on. Then you don’t need this at all. 

Objection #3: We need residents to log on (authenticate) in case a device gets a virus so we can tell where they are to take action.

Solution: The network management tools used should allow the network operator to determine the physical location (apartment number) of any device on the network, and isolate it if needed, without authentication. All Ethernet switches and managed wireless access points can do this; a good network management system can do this automatically.

Objection #4: We need to be able to identify rogue (unauthorized) wireless access points to prevent them from interfering with legitimate wireless traffic (interference).

Solution: Almost all enterprise- or carrier-grade wireless management platforms will identify rogues, and most will take over-the-air automatic remedial action. 

Objection #5: We want to be able to slow down or turn off someone’s Internet access if that person doesn’t pay rent.

Solution: There are other ways of achieving this, but you may want to reconsider using this as a sanction. In student housing, Internet access is generally provided as an amenity. Removing Internet access when payment is late links rent to Internet service. That could lead to residents claiming that they can withhold rent if there is an Internet problem.


Achieving a Frictionless User Experience

Passing the best-buy test and going frictionless is a great way to make residents happier with very little effort — a true “quick win.” But moving to a frictionless model can be a testing experience. Letting go of familiar controls and procedures is always challenging, but student-housing residents' technology and expectations have moved on, and student-housing networks have to move on as well. Take a good look at how your network is designed by answering these questions: 

  • Are there enough wireless access points to allow 10 or more wireless devices per bed?
  • Can the network operator locate and isolate an individual device in the building?
  • Are wireless access points part of a managed system, and can that managed system identify and isolate rogue wireless access points?

This is primarily for retrofitting existing systems. All new construction should be designed as frictionless right out of the box. Designing for a frictionless user experience should be no more expensive but will immediately make residents happier.

When Is Frictionless Design Inappropriate?

In some (relatively unusual) circumstances, you might need to use authentication. The first is if Internet is not provided as an amenity. In that situation, you need to ensure that people using the Internet have paid for it. The second is in a very dense urban environment where others might learn the password for the wireless service set identifier (SSID) and use it from outside the property. However, these circumstances are rare.

Andrew Marshall is president of Campus Technologies. He can be reached at 215-243-7010 or [email protected].