Wi-Fi has been a staple in schools for years. But as more districts adopt one-to-one computing initiatives, school wireless networks have had to adapt.
“The original way to deploy Wi-Fi was to make sure you had enough access points to provide a loud-enough signal to any point in a building,” says Jim Vajda, a former IT coordinator for a school district in Butler County, Ohio, now a senior network engineer for a healthcare provider in Cincinnati. “That’s fine if there aren’t a lot of users on the network. But when you have a classroom with 25 students, each with a Chromebook, and you ask them to all open a YouTube video at the same time, a coverage-based network can’t provide enough throughput.”
When a school district has thousands of users, it needs to adopt a high-density design, with more APs operating on multiple frequencies, he says. Here are the fundamental steps to getting there:
1. Resurvey to Pinpoint Network Needs
A big district going one-to-one with devices needs to create a new network plan that will support digital transformation.
“Just adding more APs won’t do it,” Vajda says. “You’ll need to re-architect your network from scratch.”
2. Spec Out User Requirements of Network
A network administrator needs to ask the right questions when developing this new plan. For example:
- Does the network need to support video? If so, what quality?
- Will students use it in an auditorium or a stadium?
- How many concurrent users will there be?
3. Make Sure Devices Match the Network
Before executing a network plan, IT leaders need to check the compatibility of the devices they have or will have, with the network.
“You can build an awesome 5-gigahertz network, but it won’t do you much good if your clients only support 2.4GHz,” Vajda says.
4. Capacity Planning Is Key
Before starting a network refresh, IT leaders should also plan for how many devices their school will have.
Capacity Planner, a free tool provided by Revolution Wi-Fi and Ubiquiti Networks, can help estimate how many APs each school needs and how to configure mesh networks.
For more on the benefits school districts can get from network refreshes, check out "Schools Invest in Infrastructure for Their Students' Futures."