Case Study

Sheffield Hallam University Increases Wi-Fi Client Performance by 116% with 7SIGNAL's Digital Experience Monitoring Solutions

The Problem

Founded in 1873, Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) is one of the UK's largest higher education providers with over 30,000 students and 4,000 staff. 

Located in the city of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England, the organization offers a wide range of courses and is one of the country’s leading providers of health and teacher training. SHU drives economic growth and forms strategic industrial partnerships to help students develop relevant health, cultural, economic, and social knowledge.

Sheffield Hallam University has a vision to become the world’s leading applied university. Part of its master plan is to create a sustainable and flexible campus, including new and refurbished buildings, a university green, and estate improvements. In 2014, the University completed its work on what’s known both literally and figuratively as “The Heart of the Campus'' building, a modern, open, and cutting-edge facility.

In line with creating an aesthetically pleasing venue, SHU was also committed to upgrading students’ wireless experience across the campus. The campus has a mix of new and old buildings, and students were reporting dead zones in multiple areas, including the open atrium of the Heart of the Campus building. Mobile devices were having difficulty roaming to the best access point (AP), which caused significant performance degradation resulting in frustration among the students and staff.

The networking team, which did not have the appropriate tools to diagnose the root cause, was unable to pinpoint and resolve the issue successfully. SHU has thousands of access points and over 30 buildings, which further added to the complexity. 

 

The Solution

SHU’s Wireless Network Manager, Barry Beveridge, began searching for a solution and was referred to 7SIGNAL by another university. 7SIGNAL, the leader in digital experience monitoring, was hired to locate and resolve the issues and fine tune the Wi-Fi network.

7SIGNAL began its assessment by installing Sapphire Eye® sensors (software-enabled Wi-Fi performance sensors) in strategic locations around the atrium. It was determined that five out of six adjacent access points near the atrium had inexplicably auto-selected Channel 1 on the 2.4GHz band. In addition, one radio chose Channel 6 and Channel 11 was not selected. It was thereby determined that Channel 11 was experiencing interference by a non-Wi-Fi transmitter.

"7SIGNAL is a huge timesaver for any kind of troubleshooting, additions, and moves and changes, because it takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation."
Barry Beveridge
,
Wireless Network Manager

The Results

Restoring 2.4 GHz functionality results in 87% performance increase.

Once the issue of Wi-Fi interference was identified and resolved, airtime utilization and co-channel interference fell sharply as radios began to auto-select the appropriate channels. With 50% percent additional capacity and less interference, the average 2.4 GHz performance increased by 87%

7SIGNAL also discovered one AP (Airserver) configured for 40 MHz bonded channels, which was problematic for the already compromised 2.4 GHz band. By changing this back to the default 20 MHz, even more airtime was freed up.

7SIGNAL then turned its attention towards the distribution of users across bands. In an ideal situation, the Wi-Fi client mix on a 5GHz network is approximately 75-80% and 20-25% on 2.4 GHz. The University was experiencing a 50/50 mix, and it was apparent that the Cisco band steering had little effect. While most clients were capable of 5GHz, more than 40% had defaulted to 2.4GHz, even though 5GHz radios served the same SSID.

The issue was resolved when almost half of the 2.4 GHz radios were disabled. Lowering the 2.4 GHz signal strength in several areas prompted most clients to opt for 5GHz instead. In addition, the minimum basic rate (MBR) was set to 18 Mbps. Transmitting management frames at higher rates reduced management frame overhead and freed up more airtime. A final measure split SSIDs, which prohibited clients from moving between bands, except as a last resort.

One of the most challenging onsite hurdles for colleges and universities is ensuring coverage throughout a wide-ranging campus network. It’s not only critical that Wi-Fi reaches every area so that students and faculty stay connected wherever they are, but speed and security are also of utmost importance.

With a multitude of devices, from smartphones to laptops to tablets to wearables, this creates a unique challenge for network engineers. 7SIGNAL played a pivotal role in reducing risk and increasing reliability, security, and speed in SHU’s network.

As a result of 7SIGNAL’s Wi-Fi solutions, average client performance increased by 116%, and the University hasn’t received one complaint from students or staff. “116% improvement in average performance is some feat,” said Beveridge. “7SIGNAL is a remarkable Wi-Fi performance management platform. If only we’d known about it sooner, we’d all have more hair.” The SHU network team is now
equipped to tackle Wi-Fi issues proactively, with meaningful data.

Beveridge and his team are impressed with how 7SIGNAL provides 360-degree visibility of the end user’s Wi-Fi experience. “It is a huge timesaver for any kind of troubleshooting, additions, and moves and changes, because it takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation.”

With the recent increase in virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SHU’s network team is poised to confidently and proactively address any concerns before they occur.

 

Solved
hard to diagnose 2.4 GHz performance issues
116%
increase in performance
Faster
Wi-Fi troubleshooting freed up time for strategic initiatives
Ability
to proactively resolve network issues