Apr 01 2021

School Districts Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 for Increased Connectivity

IT leaders are turning to Wi-Fi 6 to future proof schools as in-person classes bring an influx of devices and increased safety needs.

Schools are seeing a marked increase in digital density with the return to in-person K–12 learning. There are more devices in play, and that demands a higher level of connectivity, particularly as school districts begin to reopen classrooms and campuses.

Districts returning to in-person classes are now experiencing the burden these additional devices put on their networks. Typical Wi-Fi infrastructure may stagger under this strain, causing performance issues as an increased number of devices come online. In response, some schools are turning to the next-generation wireless standard, Wi-Fi 6.

With more schools achieving one-to-one — or even two-to-one — device-to-student ratios, “having that bandwidth is going to be critical for learning to take place,” says Peter Kaplan, national K–12 E-rate channel manager at Aruba. The company offers one of the broadest Wi-Fi 6 portfolios on the market, with devices in a range of performance levels for every budget.

EXPLORE: Find Wi-Fi 6 solutions to keep all of students' devices online with Aruba Networks.

Wi-Fi 6 Supports Increased Connectivity and Increased Engagement

Designed for dense environments, Wi-Fi 6 can support a fourfold increase in throughput, delivering seamless connectivity for schools that otherwise struggle to meet the bandwidth demands their wireless devices. It also ensures robust connections that support the types of high-bandwidth applications needed for hybrid learning, such as teleconferencing and video content.

In addition to the learning opportunities it presents, Wi-Fi 6 also offers benefits for key extracurricular programs. Decatur City Schools in Alabama, for instance, teamed with Aruba to implement Wi-Fi 6 access points to support a new esports program.

This competitive video gaming initiative has had a direct impact on academic performance, says Emily Elam, supervisor of technology for the 8,700-student district.

“By enhancing student engagement, we hoped to see a 3 percent decline in absenteeism,” she says. “Instead, absenteeism dropped by 14 percent, which is tremendous.”

READ MORE: Lessons for districts that are ready to reconnect for the first time this year.

How Does Wi-Fi 6 Support the Future of K–12 Education?

Wi-Fi 6 capabilities can help school districts prepare for a continued increase in device density. In addition to supporting one-to-one device programs, schools can also use Wi-Fi 6 to support future Internet of Things initiatives.

The higher capacity inherent to Wi-Fi 6 will also be critical to school districts as they shift toward IoT to support everything from smart HVAC to intelligent vending machines. Wi-Fi 6 also allows districts to improve connectivity for outdoor classrooms and implement advanced applications such as gunshot detection systems.

To support a safe return to physical schools, Aruba access points have embedded contact tracing technology into Wi-Fi 6 access points. The tracking capability keeps an anonymized record of devices that have been in close proximity to one another, making it possible for districts to perform contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Whatever form of education we’re going to see going forward, it will require an infrastructure that can support significant bandwidth use,” says Johann Zimmern, senior manager of vertical marketing at Aruba. “Wi-Fi 6 will enable that digitally transformed school environment.”

RELATED: Schools are closing the connectivity gap with expanded, optimized networks.

Where Can Schools Find Funding to Implement Wi-Fi 6?

Schools looking to adopt Wi-Fi 6 have a number of funding opportunities to support their needs. As part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, federal funding for remote and hybrid learning could create a unique opportunity for schools to implement Wi-Fi 6 technologies as part of a future-proof infrastructure. The law allocated $130 billion for K–12 education, intended to support the safe reopening of a majority of schools within 100 days. The money can be used for a number of upgrades, programs or devices to make schools safer and combat learning loss.

“If this is something the school district wants to quickly address, then the stimulus money would be a better way to go,” Kaplan says. “But if it’s going to be an upgrade next summer or next year, the federal E-rate program would be a better option.

“With this additional stimulus,” Kaplan says, “the federal government is investing a lot more resources to help school districts.”

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