Providing students with In Touch 24/7 connectivity

By in Education, Research, Policy on October 20, 2016

Over the past few years, the burgeoning student population has resulted in the need to find additional student accommodation outside the boundaries of the educational campuses. Varsity Lodge identified the opportunity to provide reasonably priced, comfortable student accommodation facilities close to tertiary educational campuses and it now boasts four private student residential accommodation facilities in and around Pretoria, four in Johannesburg as well as in other regions.

The eight facilities host over 2 200 students and the existing communications system was unreliable, expensive and plagued by insufficient bandwidth. Since students rely to a great extent on Internet connectivity, for both their studies and leisure, the growing usage demand at these facilities was placing an increasing burden on the service.

In December 2015 internet service provider (ISP) In Touch 24/7 was approached by Varsity Lodge to investigate the pre-existing connectivity issues and to design a solution that would provide increased bandwidth and seamless connectivity. According to Louis Yssel, CEO and CTO of In Touch 24/7, the ideal was to replace the potpourri of unmatched products with a system that would be fully integrated, managed and scalable.

Based on a long-standing relationship with IP wireless convergence company MiRO, Yssel was able to identify a number of enterprise-grade MiRO products that would overcome the previous challenges.

“We discussed the proposed system with MiRO CEO Bertus van Jaarsveld and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the company had recently added the OPEN-MESH range of access points (APs) to its portfolio. This was definitely the clincher for us as the OPEN-MESH range provides the performance levels expected of much more expensive products but at an extremely affordable price. Low-end access points are inexpensive but limited and the higher-end products provide good management but at a premium and they are characterised by complex licence models,” says Yssel.

Impact studies were undertaken prior to the installation at the Lynwood facility to ensure that any installation issues associated with the older building were minimised and could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Yssel points out that the company conducted a substantial amount of laboratory testing while designing the solution to mitigate any upgrading challenges. MiRO provided In Touch 24/7 with a demo kit, which allowed the company to further verify the success of its proof of concept.

Deployment of the solution, which includes a fibre backhaul and 68 OPEN-MESH dual-band
OM-MR-1750 APs spread across the Wi-Fi network, began in April 2016 and was completed a few weeks later. The cloud-based deployment system is extremely fast, ensuring users have immediate connection and operability.

“Our main aims were to provide a system with reliability, speed, manageability, flexibility and increased bandwidth. The functionality between the APs and hotspots is excellent. The OPEN-MESH OM-MR-1750 has a great design that can be readily used both indoors and outdoors. We have standardised on this one model which means that our logistics and stockholding are simplified. Students simply buy a bundle which allows them to connect to hotspots from up to three different devices owned by them,” Yssel explains.

Marco de Ru, CTO at MiRO says that OPEN-MESH provides customers with a number of benefits that include CloudTrax, the free cloud-based controller which has no licensing or annual fees. This cloud-based management system is integrated into the In Touch 24/7 management platform. In addition, the APs have modular hardware, allowing the APs situated outdoors at the Lynwood campus to be protected by a weatherproof enclosure. To ensure that the APs remain operational at all times, a hardware watchdog chip monitors the CPU status and restarts the router should it lock up due to environmental factors or power spikes, this in turn minimises truck rolls and customer service calls.

In Touch 24/7’s service platform monitors the solutions and the management system manages the routers, devices, backhaul and the commercial side of the installation. Based on the success of the Lynwood campus, In Touch 24/7 is now moving into phase two which involves the deployment of a further 600 OPEN-MESH APs at Varsity Lodge’s other seven Gauteng facilities.