Apr 01 2022

Wi-Fi 6 Access Points Expand Connectivity in K–12 Districts

From devices in the classroom to outdoor learning, reliable internet across the K–12 campus is vital in today’s education landscape.

Learning during the pandemic benefited from what many schools had already started to build: Wi-Fi-enabled environments with top-notch connectivity that could support all users, from students working in the classroom to physical education teachers out on the field. Thanks to the remote learning changes that impacted education over this time, altering everything from lesson planning to tutoring, a flood of new devices re-entered schools along with returning students.

Today’s students are more connected than ever, relying on multiple platforms across smartphones, computers, tablets and classroom devices to access educational content. This influx demands more robust connectivity, and Wi-Fi 6 access points can meet that need in schools across the country.

EXPLORE: NETGEAR products from CDW help connect K–12 students in any environment.

Wi-Fi 6 offers faster speeds and better connectivity at 9.6 gigabits per second, up from Wi-Fi 5’s more limited speed of 3.5Gbps. Wi-Fi 6 is also more efficient than its predecessors, but it’s likely the increased speed that will appeal most to users, both in and out of the classroom.

What Are the Benefits of Wi-Fi 6 in K–12 Schools?

When students and teachers returned to in-person learning accustomed to using more devices throughout the school day than ever before, IT leaders quickly noticed their districts would need new Wi-Fi capabilities to keep up.

“Whether it be cellphones, tablets, interactive panels, Chromebooks — it seems like everybody has a Chromebook nowadays — projectors, TVs or asset tagging, with more devices in the classroom, there’s a need for a solution that can handle that load,” says Joseph McGonigle, business manager at NETGEAR.

For a teacher working to capture students’ attention, Wi-Fi speed can make or break an educational moment; for instance, if a video doesn’t load quickly enough, students will lose focus, turning to chat with each other instead. This takes time away from the lesson, as educators work to recapture attention and resume learning.

The pandemic accelerated the push for better Wi-Fi in district buildings, McGonigle says. “Schools didn’t have the Chromebooks and laptops inside of the classroom pre-pandemic, but they were forced to move toward that. There’s definitely a need for increased capacity from an access point on the network.”

DIVE DEEPER: How can school IT teams effectively manage Chromebooks?

He adds that Wi-Fi 6 has a greater channel width, more efficient bandwidth sharing, backward compatibility, and Wi-Fi sleeping for enabled devices. “If the device is still connected to the Wi-Fi but the Wi-Fi isn’t being used, it will take away the bandwidth needed and distribute it to other devices.”

How Can Wi-Fi 6 Accommodate Outdoor Learning?

A few years ago, classes might have gone outside for independent reading time or to learn about nature through a science walk. Now, in addition to those reasons, many educators are leading outdoor classes for the mental health benefits that being outside provides, for better air circulation to reduce virus transmission, or because their lessons integrate outdoor components. But when the teachers and students head outside, so do the devices.

IT teams are left with a tall task: to ensure connectivity for students and teachers whether devices are a few feet outside the building or hundreds of yards away from the school.

“The biggest challenge would be coverage. The way you fix that is with outdoor access points that can be embedded inside the system,” McGonigle says, adding that using mobile routers that operate off of 5G is also an option. “An ad hoc fix would be mobile routers or outdoor access points.”

The biggest challenge would be coverage. The way you fix that is with outdoor access points that can be embedded inside the system.”

Joseph McGonigle Business Manager, NETGEAR

“It depends how nimble a class needs to be,” he continues. Classes can venture quite far from the school building itself thanks to portable hotspots the teacher can take outside.

NETGEAR also offers mesh networking, and free heat map and site surveys, which can help K–12 IT teams identify and augment less connected areas. These technologies ensure minimal interruptions as students resume in-person learning, and give educators all the tools needed to teach without bandwidth issues getting in the way.

What’s Next for School Wi-Fi Capabilities?

Developers aren’t stopping with the integration of Wi-Fi 6; McGonigle says they are already looking at integrations for Wi-Fi 6E, which has even faster speeds and lower latency than previous versions. “There are rumors of Wi-Fi 7 already,” he says. “I think it will have more capacity and probably additional channels as well.”

As Wi-Fi standards advance, McGonigle notes there can be issues with compatibility if IT teams don’t carefully plan their upgrades.

LEARN MORE: Make these six considerations before implementing Wi-Fi 6 in K–12 schools.

“With Wi-Fi 6, a lot of the feature sets are accessible only through devices that are Wi-Fi 6–enabled,” he says. Much depends on when districts purchased devices, but this shouldn’t stop schools from upgrading their access points. IT leaders will find the advanced connectivity standard supported in many new devices as they upgrade, replace and refresh their technology.

“It’s future-proof,” McGonigle says. “As devices are created, as schools cycle through Chromebooks, as they get new interactive panels, they’re going to have devices that are Wi-Fi 6–enabled. As you increase your nodes and endpoints, those endpoints are going to be capable of accessing Wi-Fi 6.”

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