What’s the State of Modern School WiFi?

Date February 25, 2015 Author Comments Leave your thoughts

School WiFi, WiFi in Schools

Technology has evolved since I was at school…come to think of it, a lot of things have evolved since I was at school!

Unlike me, my parents were not brought up in a highly technological world but as times have changed so have they (they won’t mind me saying). My Mum and Dad know the basics of home computing but they are light years behind my infant nephews who, given a smartphone or tablet, will be surfing the net or playing a game within minutes.

As we as individuals adapt to a world permeated by ever-advancing technology – the ways in which we consume information and communicate with one another – so does society more broadly. The impacts, both positive and in some cases negative, are being felt in all corners, but none more so than within education as schools colleges and universities seek to leverage Wi-Fi and mobile technology to enhance teaching and learning environments.

Forward-thinking School Wi-Fi

Some forward-thinking schools are allowing their pupils to bring in their own laptops, tablets and smartphone devices to enhance their learning through specifically developed applications and other on-line resources.

The advantages of integrating consumer and school-owned technology are not limited to just the education of students. A better understanding of how technology and the Internet can be used effectively and efficiently will benefit them as they find their way into the tech-dominated workplace.

There are also significant cost and environmental advantages to school BYOD, as faculty budgets are alleviated of hardware burdens and, in a paperless system, printing costs are eliminated. In fact, the confidence in one-to-one computing in schools has led to a very real possibility of future examinations being conducted entirely digitally…of course, when technology becomes this ‘mission-critical’, a reliable, robust and secure wireless network is essential.

Mission-Critical Wi-Fi

Problems can arise for educational establishments as e-learning initiatives are implemented before a proper assessment of the network has been carried out – as technology evolves so must your network.

School wireless networks at the end of their life-cycle (5-7 years) will have been deployed at a time when mobile devices were accessing the network in comparatively small numbers and the majority were school-owned, making identification and security a far easier task.

More traditional school networks may have had one access point covering between three and four classrooms, with a trolley of laptops being shared between them.

According to a study by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) last year, the average classroom size in a UK secondary school is 21 students. So, in a traditional setting, that’s 21 devices demanding access. However, in a world where students are carrying at least three Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, we can multiply that to total of 63…all of a sudden that wireless network is not looking so healthy. Pupils will experience poor connectivity and the network will slow down or crash depending on the severity of the strain put upon it.

Our experience in education networking tells us that in many cases technology, and its adoption, has advanced but networks have been left behind. Schools must consider the Coverage, Capacity and Scalability of their network if they are serious about BYOD and mobile devices usage in the classroom.

Crack the School WiFi lingo…

Coverage: Are the current access points providing the coverage you require for a resilient network? Many schools are seeking to cover previously unreachable areas –such as outdoor sports facilities and canteens. Within this kind of environment, where network access is expected across the entire campus, one access point per room is often necessary.

Capacity: Are the current access points providing the capacity you require in high density areas such as common rooms, canteens and sports halls? Does the current access point have the capacity to support the demands of end-users (Web 2.0 Applications, P2P, Instant Messaging etc).

Scalability: Does your current network support your requirements now and will it cope with future expansions or technology advancements?

For school Wi-Fi, or just general wireless networking, information, please see our case studies (Hardenhuish School, Central School of Speech & Drama, Bournemouth School for Girls) where we have helped our customers to achieve a network which supports the growth of their education environment and the adoption of more accessible e-learning.

I guess we are never too old to learn, even my parents! 

Justin Pender

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