Many schools today are choosing to leverage wireless technology and mobile devices as a means to enhance the learning experience for both students and faculty members. The challenge for school IT managers is making sure these new technology investments actually work, and this starts by deploying the right wireless network design.
Over the last 10 years the K-12 wifi environment has changed quite a bit to say the least, going from having dedicated computer labs using desktops to supporting interactive learning, streaming video (YouTube), and hundreds and hundreds of connected devices through BYOD, 1:1 and the internet of things.
Without the right WLAN design in place, your wifi performance will suffer, your end-users will suffer and you'll end up having to explain to the school board why their rather large investment isn't producing the expected results.
If schools are going to be successful using today's learning tools they have to start changing the way they think about and design their school's wireless network.
How do you avoid making costly design mistakes? How do you create a reliable, robust, secure and easy to manage school wifi network?
Here are four steps you can follow to create a proper school wireless network that's more than ready to support today's as well as tomorrow's requirements.
The Wi-Fi engineering process is complicated and it takes a combination of experience and knowledge to both scientifically and artfully create the right RF design to satisfy your goals/requirements. This process begins with two different types of RF site surveys, a predictive site survey and then an on-site wireless site survey.
A predictive site survey is done without physically being on location and uses key data points and expensive software to generate an accurate "predictive" WLAN design.
From there, (especially in larger more complex environments) a wifi engineer will go on-site to validate the predictive design and make any necessary adjustments.
Finally, after deployment a validation site survey will be done to, you guessed it, validate that the network is performing as designed and that it accurately satisfies the schools requirements established at the beginning of the project.
Almost every time we've been asked by a school or school district to come in and fix their wifi performance issues, we would find that the root cause of their problem was an outdated wireless network design.
For example, the school might have updated their access points with the latest 11ac standards, but based it on an old design, only causing more problems.
Without completing these assessments and working with an experienced, knowledgeable wifi service provider you might as well forget about deploying wireless all together.
Planning for Capacity
Wifi performance today is about more than casting a large net over your environment, it's about context. Your design needs to take into account both coverage and capacity.
You need to understand what types of devices are going to be used, what types of applications they will be running, where they will be accessing your network from and how many devices you have to support.
For example, smartphones are small, low-powered devices and they can't communicate as loudly as say a laptop can. If you just throw up some access points and hope for the best you're not going to be very happy with your results.
Watch the Video: "How to Design Wireless Networks for Capacity [Whiteboard Video]"
However, knowing what and how many devices and applications are present is only part of the capacity challenge, you also have to know where the high-density or the most congested (from a wifi standpoint) parts of your school are located.
This way you can plan your RF design properly to accommodate for specific areas where you know you'll need more resources.
Typically in K-12 schools, IT departments are rather small compared to the size and complexity of the networks they are tasked to support.
It's critical that you also plan for how you're going to manage everything once its been deployed. Successfully supporting a school wireless network today means being proactive and being as efficient as possible.
You have to know information like, how many users are connecting at one time, or what access points are being over-utilized? You need to have real-time visibility of the who, what, where, when and how your network is being accessed.
Your wifi management tools should be centralized at one single point, using easy to use dashboards to help you efficiently visualize the overall health of your school wifi network.
Note* - This shouldn't be something you look into after your network is deployed but rather as it's being designed.
Wireless and mobility make securing your network and your end-users inherently difficult. Your devices aren't stationary anymore, they move around, and in many cases leave the physical campus of the school (BYOD) every day when your users go home.
In any case, whether the devices are owned by the school (1:1) or owned by your end-users (bring your own device), security must be at the foundation of your school's WLAN design.
If this wasn't already challenging enough, new security threats are constantly popping up and your school wifi network has to be ready to take on those threats proactively.
This requires a comprehensive approach when it comes to your network's security posture. Here are four critical components that your WLAN design at a bare-minimum should incorporate:
- Wireless Intrusion Detection and Prevention (WIDS)
- Role-Based Access Control
- Directory Services Integration
- Next-Generation Firewall
As schools seek to deploy and support an increasing number of connected devices through the internet of things and BYOD, as well as enabling the latest classroom technology advancements, your security foundation has to evolve and grow accordingly.
Now that you have the 4 most important steps for creating the perfect wireless network design it’s time to put it into action. Download our Free Wireless Network Design Kit below and take the first step to the perfect wireless network design today!
If you have any questions about your current wireless network or would like to set-up a wifi performance analysis please contact us here.