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ASU is expanding an improved wireless network to better connect students

Advancements to ASU's wireless network intend to support VR learning and further Internet of Things implementation


"Software-defined networking is a main focus for ASU in order to enable improved efficiency and allow more technological components to be controlled from one place." Illustration published on Monday, March 2, 2020. 

ASU is advancing an expanded wireless network in order to better connect students to each other and prepare for upcoming technological innovations like 5G and the Internet of Things

Software-defined networking is a main focus for ASU in order to enable improved efficiency and allow more technological components to be controlled from one place.

SDN is “a network architecture approach that enables the network to be intelligently and centrally controlled, or ‘programmed,’ using software applications,” according to Ciena.

“SDN is a platform that enables new models of connectivity and service delivery, that we can use to make our environment much more agile to meet the evolving needs of our students, our researchers and our social environments,” said James McCabe, senior network architect at ASU’s University Technology Office. 

The University's hope is for this network to be able to support new ways of learning, including remote learning for VR. 

ASU would like to have a network infrastructure that will allow coordination between different virtual reality environments, while also allowing them to work in conjunction with labs and tools to enable student learning, McCabe said. 

An example would be students working together with the Mayo Clinic, using their tools over VR to train and still being able to communicate with each other, said McCabe. 

With the network constantly improving, ASU has already outfitted some blue light emergency call boxes around campus with updated Internet of Things sensors with hopes of doing the same to others, McCabe said. 

With current network limitations, the addition of thousands of new devices or further expansion of Internet of Things technology does not allow the flexibility UTO hopes for. 

“We need to build a network that can not only handle today but tomorrow's network traffic because of the Internet of Things,” said Jess Evans, chief operating and digital transformation officer at the University Technology Office. “Those types of devices have a lot of chatter on the network.” 

When comparing ASU to other higher education institutions, ASU is not alone in pursuing software-defined networking or furthering Internet of Things technology across its campus, as ideas are shared on the website Educause between institutions. 

Evans is confident ASU is getting ahead of other higher education institutions in advancing their network. 

“What we've learned is that ASU tends to be the current front runner for planning an SDN edge to edge implementation,” said Evans. 

Another advantage of turning to SDN is keeping maintenance and upkeep costs low, as the systems will mostly be run in a central area with little hardware.

“You don't have to have as much capital costs, and you don't have to deploy as many people to physically go check these actual devices,” said Evans. 

Though ambitions are high and the potential of having SDN across campus seems great, it is not lost on ASU how big this transformation will be over the next few years.

“It’s a massive transformation, its generational change across a massive environment,” said Lani Hildebrant, director of network operations and digital transformation. There has been “a lot of planning and a lot of research and a lot of figuring out how this is going to impact all of our students and our enterprise.”

ASU has ambitions beyond what their current network can handle, making the advancement of it so imperative to future plans. 

“Right now, traditional networks built not on an SDN platform do not allow the flexibility and agility we are looking to gain by transitioning to SDN,” said Evans.  

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