The first generation born post-Y2K – aptly named "post-millennials" – are now adults. In the relative short span of time since the beginning of the millennium, technology has transformed at a rapid pace: flip phones morphed into portable computers, and the word "Google" went mainstream as both a noun and a verb. Post-millennials (or Generation Z) arrived into an interconnected world on day one.
In North America in late 2000, the broadband household penetration rate was 6%. Fast-forward to 2017, and the figure is now just under 88%, over an 80-percentage-point growth since the turn of the century. Most post-millennials grew up with a broadband connection in the home and their lives online, for both entertainment and educational purposes. Many are now entering university, and as they move out from under their parents' roofs and into a dorm, there will be one constant expectation: a reliable internet connection.
The dorm room is a college student's home, and the university campus serves as an extension of that home. To the Generation Z student, the same expectations apply in their room as elsewhere on campus. Whether they are using social media in the student union building or researching for a paper at the campus library, the post-millennial student requires a dependable broadband connection that delivers adequate throughput (even on Wi-Fi). Like having lights on in a building, reliable connectivity is viewed as a given, and when it's absent or interrupted, it causes a big problem.
Furthermore, many Generation Z university students were introduced to technology in the classroom in their earlier schooling years and would expect that to continue into higher education. In a university setting, supplemental online resources (such as compressed heavy reading files and video learning) as well as the adoption of next-generation technologies such as AR and VR have become a part of a holistic higher-education experience. High-bandwidth throughput is required, not only for reliability, but also to alleviate latency problems. For example, when paired with VR headsets, low latency could cause a person to become physically ill.
Students are not alone in their desire for a better-connected university. As many campuses are upgrading their networks to respond to the requirements of next-gen students, university IT and facility administrators are working to digitally transform as well. Technology upgrades include advanced communications and cloud-based applications, both of which require reliable connections and throughput.
Passive optical LANs (POLs) have been the answer for a number of higher-education institutions around the world. Based on fiber optics, POLs provide a futureproof solution that can be tailored to fit a campus's individual needs. Scaling and upgrades can be done with relative ease. When taking into consideration the lifespan of the network, the space, power, and cost savings are abundant compared to traditional active Ethernet LANs. The biggest issue holding back deployment of POLs on campuses is that many higher-ed IT administrators are unfamiliar with them. Therefore, vendors need to further champion this approach and the role it can play in the future of college campus networks.
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