“Education Sector to Spend USD 704 Million on IT”

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Rajesh Shetty, Vice President, Cisco India & SAARC, shares his insights on the importance of wireless network and the latest technology available for the education segment with Pragya Gupta

Rajesh Shetty
Vice President, Cisco India & SAARC

How do you see the role of wireless campus for better learning delivery outcomes?

Wireless campuses benefit both students and teachers. For instance, apart from uploading assignments and sharing related links on mails, students can access information on-the-go, listen and view virtual classes at a time convenient to them. Most importantly, it enables the institutes to reach out to students who are physically challenged or students who stay in far off places, enabling them to view lessons remotely.

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Furthermore, with students today adopting tablets and other devices, many educational institutes are embracing the concept of BYOD (bring your own device) to enhance learning and teaching. Going wireless helps as it addresses the need to be connected constantly and provides seamless networking, ensuring improved student engagement.

Please tell us about the most popular solutions among institutes.

Universities and educational institutions today are using a diverse range of technologies. However, the fundamental need is for robust network that would allow all stakeholders of an institute, including the staff, administration and students, to be connected on one platform. This enables the institute to recognise relevant applications and technologies to suit their purposes. Most institutes opt for solutions with focus on video communication, collaboration tools, IT-as-a-Service, or any combination of services and applications. Some of the solutions provided by Cisco for educational institutes are – Unified Communications, Mobility, Digital Media System, Notifi-ED, Smart+Connected Communities, Physical Security, and Cisco CloudVerse.

What is the market size of WiFi in India? What is the contribution of education in that?

Over the last few years, WiFi has been the preferred medium through which individuals are connecting to the internet and social networking sites. According to a report issued by WiFi Alliance in 2009, the WiFi market in India is supposed to hit $1billion in 2012.
Last year, the sector was estimated at Rs 3,000 crore. This is slated to grow further by 25-30 percent this year. New areas such as e-learning, digital classrooms and campus networking are growing within this sector. The Indian education sector is one of the largest in the world, with over 600 universities and about 13 lakh education institutes, presenting a huge opportunity to technology vendors. According to a Springboard Research, India’s education sector will also step up its IT spending to USD 704 million in 2012.

Please comment on the adoption of WiFi by the higher education institutes in India?

Digital revolution has just begun in the education sector of India. This can be largely attributed to students having access to the net on their smart phones and tablets. This has prompted institutes to invest in technology to develop their IT infrastructure and provide better learning experiences. The demand for WiFi in education can also be partly attributed to foreign collaborations, working professionals opting for higher education online etc. Like we said before, this sector has a huge potential and we foresee investments growing in the near future.

The Indian government is also playing an important role in driving the adoption of digital technologies in the education sector. Under the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12), National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) has been set up to provide digitised content, connectivity and low-cost computing devices to the higher education sector in the country.

What challenges do you face while deploying solutions in educational institutes?

While institutes are adopting technology, there is still room for improvement. The primary roadblock for IT adoption is a low perceived ROI. Another challenge we face is the comfort level and familiarity with technology among faculties who are slow in adapting to new technologies and devices. Furthermore, lack of digital content and courses, fragmented material, copyrights are other common issues. Huge data demand, infrastructure, delay in decision making and user density at the campus are other common concerns that need to be considered while deploying.

What Security features are being deployed to eliminate possibility of data breaches and to control the students from accessing unauthorised sites?

During deployment itself, Cisco ensures utmost security of the network. Cisco offers Cisco Self-Defending Network technology, including Cisco Network Admission Control Enterprise-class security with a built-in intrusion prevention system (IPS) and intrusion detection system (IDS). Threat Defence is another security feature that provides real-time RF monitoring for rogue detection and self-management. The product also offers a centralised network management of campus, branch office, and remote locations from a single management console, thereby enabling a tightly integrated secure network. Cisco also offers integrated mobility services for security, voice services, guest access, and location services.

What advice would you like to give to the education institutes planning to go for wireless networks?

In India quality educational institutes are mostly concentrated in urban areas and students are often forced to choose their specialisation based on proximity and course cost. Education institutes can overcome this problem by going wireless.

Wireless environments will also help faculties to mould the future workforce, improve campus efficiencies, streamline operations, and enable real-time connectivity through any device. Students will benefit from the exposure to technology, as more and more corporate houses are looking for job-ready candidates who are tech savvy.

With students today expecting services such as video conferencing, live streaming of video, virtual classrooms and social media access through high speed internet connections, there is a significant strain on the wireless infrastructure. Education institutes should deploy solutions which can cater to these requirements and should be willing to pay a premium for solutions which are scalable and reliable.

While deploying wireless infrastructure, educational institutions should also keep in view security above the traditional UTM solutions. Data loss prevention and content filtering are requisites for any educational institution migrating to technology infrastructure.

Please throw some light on the latest trends and futuristic solutions in wireless segment.

Operators are experiencing (or will experience) congestion in their networks especially in densely populated areas. To alleviate the congestion, many operators are turning towards WiFi networks to offload data traffic. However, WiFi networks in its current form of implementation bring several challenges for wide user adoption. WiFi Hotspot network selection is a manual process and the browser based authentication is not seamless and further requires user intervention.

To overcome these challenges, WiFi Alliance has launched a new standard called “Passpoint technology”. This standard would allow people to access a carrier’s Wi-Fi without needing to type a passcode or selecting a Wi-Fi hot spot. The technology automatically authenticates users and it layers on security that is typically missing from some Wi-Fi hot spots. Depending on roaming agreements between carriers, this technology also provide the users to access more than one Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi Alliance will start certifying carrier networks and the devices with Passpoint technology from June 2012.

802.11ac, also known as 5G-WiFi, is a new standard currently under development and is the next step after 802.11n. This specification will enable multi-station WLAN network to achieve datarates upto 1 Gigabit per second. This is accomplished by extending the air interface concepts embraced by 802.11n: wider RF bandwidth (up to 160 MHz), more MIMO spatial streams (up to 8), multi-user MIMO, and high-density modulation.//

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