Accelerated by the widespread use of the Internet, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is rapidly being integrated into higher education, profoundly changing the traditional methods of teaching and learning. Indeed, higher education institutions worldwide are looking to take full advantage of emerging technologies — such as Wi-Fi 6, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and big data — to quickly future-proof their network infrastructure, thereby facilitating ICT-enabled teaching, learning, academic research, and routine administration.
China's Heilongjiang International University (HIU) is one case in point. Located in Harbin — nicknamed China's Ice City — HIU stands near the banks of the picturesque Songhua River. Since its establishment in 1993, the university has grown into an applied undergraduate college with distinctive characteristics and comprehensive strengths. At present, it has 10 colleges and departments, 30 undergraduate majors, and over 10,000 students and faculty members.
To keep its network infrastructure up to date, HIU completed the first phase of its campus network construction in 2014, adopting wired as the preferred access mode for terminals and wireless as a supplement to provide network access services for daily operations. However, due to the recent years of rapid growth, HIU saw a surge in the number of teachers and students, the diversity of terminal types, and the range of education, teaching, and academic research platforms. This placed huge strain on the access modes, user capacity, service bandwidth, and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) of the existing network. It became clear to HIU that a campus network upgrade was imperative.
In the second half of 2021, HIU formulated an overall campus network plan to accelerate digital transformation, aligning with its vision to become a Smart HIU. The plan involved embracing wireless and cloud trends to build a high-quality campus network with ubiquitous access, always-on services, and free flowing data. After much deliberation with vendors, HIU finally chose Huawei to upgrade its campus network, with several demands set.
With signal coverage around every corner, connectivity that refuses to drop, and download speeds faster than ever before, HIU's new Wi-Fi 6 network provides users with a wide range of tangible benefits.
In areas such as teaching buildings, gymnasiums, canteens, and security offices, HIU deployed Huawei AirEngine 6761-21 settled Wi-Fi 6 Access Points (APs) and AirEngine 5762-15HW wall plate Wi-Fi 6 APs. Both AP types have built-in Smart Antennas to enable always-on Wi-Fi signals with comprehensive coverage, in turn providing high concurrency and large bandwidth for all users. A testament to high-speed Wi-Fi 6 access, real-world speed tests indicate that single-user download speeds can reach 300 Mbit/s. Both AP types are also embedded with Bluetooth modules and USB ports to flexibly expand Internet of Things (IoT) applications, such as asset management, temperature control, and light control. This removes the need to deploy independent IoT networks, slashing network construction and management costs.
In student and teacher dormitories with many partitions, HIU directly installed one AirEngine 5762-15HW wall plate Wi-Fi 6 AP in each room, creating an uninterrupted Wi-Fi 6 network with full signal coverage and high user bandwidth. As verified in actual speed tests, teachers or students can easily access the Wi-Fi network and enjoy seamless video calls with remote peers. Even when moving quickly throughout dormitory areas, the user experience is uncompromised, with no video buffering or audio lag.
In outdoor open campus areas, HIU rolled out Huawei AirEngine 5761R-11E outdoor Wi-Fi 6 APs to ensure wide outdoor coverage. Such APs are easily installed onto poles and adopt external Smart Antennas for stronger, farther signal coverage. This allows users to quickly find their desired Wi-Fi network and instantly access it with just one click. Even at distances of 100 m from an AP, real-world speed tests show download speeds of up to 100 Mbit/s.
"The Wi-Fi 6 experience is exceptional. We get full Wi-Fi signals all over campus that never drop. What impresses us most is the huge boost in bandwidth. Our live courses are now very smooth, and downloading hundreds of megabytes of courseware is no problem," one HIU student commented.
Before making the final decision, HIU had three solutions to choose from: a Passive Optical LAN (POL) solution, an all-optical Ethernet solution, and the Low-Carbon Intelligent Campus Network Solution. The former two solutions use local power supplies, greatly restricting the deployment of access devices. Worse yet, POL has innate drawbacks such as insufficient user bandwidth and closed network architecture, while all-optical Ethernet suffers from high network construction costs and complex O&M.
It's no surprise, then, that HIU went with Huawei's Low-Carbon Intelligent Campus Network Solution, which offers simplified architecture and optical-electrical Power over Ethernet (PoE).
A conventional campus network consists of three layers: access, aggregation, and core. Huawei's simplified architecture redefines this into just two layers: access and core. Huawei's CloudEngine S12700E modular switch can be deployed at the core layer, and CloudEngine S5731-H hybrid optical-electrical switches can be used as access switches. These access switches use Remote Units (RUs) to flexibly expand ports, with the ability to accommodate over 4000 wired terminals. This all-new architecture has greatly simplified network management for HIU, reducing the number of managed nodes — including core and access nodes — of wired devices by approximately 80%. Furthermore, with the RUs adopting an energy-saving design, the average power consumption of a single port has been slashed to less than 1 W, 30% less than the industry average. Based on estimations, this translates into savings of more than 20,000 kWh of electricity in just a single year.
In addition, drawing on innovative optical-electrical PoE technology, access switches use hybrid cables to provide GE or even 10 GE data access, while offering long-distance, high-power PoE to RUs or wireless APs. For this reason, RUs can be flexibly deployed anywhere, doing away with the need to obtain a local power supply. Plus, RUs are deployed onto desktops, making it easy for terminals to connect to the nearest RU. This means that only one Extra Low Voltage (ELV) room is required per building, slashing resource and cabling requirements. Indeed, estimates indicate that Huawei's solution has helped HIU reduce cabling by over 60% for wired terminal access alone.
Huawei's solution has not only helped HIU reduce the energy consumption of network devices, but also slashed the need to deploy copper cables, keeping in line with the university's vision to build a green campus network.
"Huawei's solution greatly simplifies campus network planning and deployment. Its plug-and-play RUs are directly deployed onto desktops, greatly reducing cabling from the ELV room," said the Project Manager from the Harbin Shiji Optic Valley Networks Company, an integrator in the HIU project. "In particular, optical-electrical PoE enables long-distance power supply, making it easy to supply power to RUs and Wi-Fi 6 APs."
With business operations in 170 countries and regions and more than 194,000 employees worldwide, Huawei clearly has a large global presence, through which it has accrued extensive experience in digital transformation and network operations.
In 2019, Huawei launched iMaster NCE-Campus: a one-stop campus network management platform purpose-built to improve the deployment and O&M efficiency of campus networks. iMaster NCE-Campus integrates network management, control, and analysis functions and enables the centralized management and control of devices, users, and services. And such clear benefits have proven highly valuable at HIU.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HIU was temporarily locked down, leaving the university concerned about the potential delay of the project's delivery. iMaster NCE-Campus helped to alleviate these concerns by providing an extensive range of functions to greatly ease network planning and service deployment.
Scenario-specific deployment: iMaster NCE-Campus performs one-off network planning and then rapidly replicates the plan for identical or similar service scenarios, greatly simplifying network planning and deployment. HIU therefore used iMaster NCE-Campus to plan network services in one apartment building, and then replicated the plan for the other seven. This allowed the university to plan, install, commission, and deploy more than 100 switches and 3000 Wi-Fi 6 APs throughout its campus in a fraction of the time that it would normally take.
Automated configuration verification: Instead of conventional manual network configuration verification on a per-item basis, iMaster NCE-Campus enables automatic batch configuration verification based on user-defined scripts. This greatly improves efficiency when it comes to configuring network services.
Intelligent terminal identification: iMaster NCE-Campus intelligently identifies terminal types using a terminal fingerprint database, and automatically matches terminal policies based on the identification results. This unique capability prevents unauthorized terminals from accessing the network, as well as unauthorized data access from user terminals.
Although network construction is clearly a crucial first step, one could argue that what comes next is even more important: the subsequent O&M. This was certainly true for HIU. Throughout its campus, the university deployed a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) with more than 3000 Wi-Fi 6 APs. And due to a lack of visibility, the Wi-Fi network needed to be managed and maintained by highly skilled Information Technology (IT) O&M personnel.
After seeing a demonstration of Huawei's iMaster NCE-CampusInsight, HIU immediately decided to deploy it as an auxiliary tool for IT O&M personnel, thereby mitigating O&M pressure. iMaster NCE-CampusInsight collects, analyzes, and visualizes wired and wireless network status data in real time and evaluates campus network health from seven dimensions. The management tool also helps to identify and evaluate the quality of more than 1000 popular applications, thereby delivering valuable insight into each user's experience.
In addition, from initial network access to final disconnection, iMaster NCE-CampusInsight records the entire user journey, with playback capabilities in place to easily trace network exceptions. Now, if a user encounters a network fault — such as a network connection failure or slow download speeds — at 10:00 a.m., HIU O&M personnel can use iMaster NCE-CampusInsight to locate the root cause of the fault by 2:00 p.m., quickly rectifying it based on rectification suggestions.
"With the new campus WLAN in place, I was initially worried about the resulting O&M challenges. Huawei's iMaster NCE-CampusInsight, however, makes O&M easier than ever," an IT O&M engineer from HIU stated. "iMaster NCE-CampusInsight can display network statuses in real time, detect user service experiences, and identify network exceptions. It's really practical, enabling us to quickly pinpoint and rectify exceptions based on actionable suggestions, just like a regular health check-up."
From far-reaching Wi-Fi 6 coverage and superfast network access to a fully seamless service experience, the new, upgraded campus network is highly praised by teachers, students, and staff alike. This has further strengthened HIU's determination to accelerate its digital teaching and learning journey.
"We'd like to thank Huawei for their relentless efforts in upgrading HIU's campus network. We have built the first-of-its-kind all-optical, green, and low-carbon intelligent campus network in Northeast China. This lays a solid foundation for our future ICT-enabled development and digital transformation."
Director of the Modern Education Technology Center at HIU