Over the last 5 years, planning and implementing a reliable school Wi-Fi network has become increasingly complex to do correctly. There are many different variables to consider and just as many components that need to come together just right to be successful. It’s no wonder that more than a few things get overlooked when deploying Wi-Fi in the K-12 environment.
Typically, access points and things like RF coverage and capacity end-up being the focal point for most K-12 IT managers. However, while these elements are important there’s a long list of other key components that often get missed.
School Wi-Fi networks today are a mission-critical system that’s both complex and costly to deploy.
Although there are many funding options available today, including programs such as E-Rate, the reality is your WLAN must last for the next 3-4 years.
What does this mean?
Getting it wrong will have both performance and financial consequences.
To make sure you don’t leave anything out, here are 5 key components that you might not have thought about when deploying Wi-Fi at your school.
The importance of a network management system and performance monitoring
Having a network management system is an essential component of your wireless network. It provides real-time visibility and analytics into what is happening on your WLAN to properly maintain optimal wifi performance and security.
There are 3 main areas where an NMS is invaluable:
- RF Coverage - enables you to see a where the access points are covering (wifi heat mapping) throughout your school’s campus. Allowing you to visualize in real-time how it varies throughout the day.
- Device Connections - provides data on the devices accessing your network. Info such as: IP addresses, current signal level they have, and what access points and channels they are using to access your WLAN. Providing you with performance levels, and the ability to troubleshoot as necessary.
- Device Locations - allows you to pinpoint the location of your end-users based off the APs they have accessed.
Ready to scale
This allows your campus wifi to support increasing numbers of devices and end-users as well as any growth in the environment. This could be from the addition of a new building to changes in materials placed on campus.
Your wireless NMS provides effective and efficient detailed reporting to ensure everything is up to date and up to standards. Here’s a list of what you see:can expect to RF Health
Usage data and performance data for differing devices
Network management systems provide detailed insights into how well your network and the devices and applications it’s supporting are performing.
Switches are the traffic cops of your network; they make sure everything gets to where it needs to go, while also keeping traffic from where it doesn’t need to go.
Essentially your switching is the part of the puzzle that keeps the flow of traffic on your network efficient and organized.
Where school Wi-Fi networks get into trouble is when they forget that their wired infrastructure (switches for example) directly impacts the performance of their wireless network.
Having outdated switches or switches that aren’t compatible with the wireless system your installing will cause massive bottlenecks and choke points across your network, causing major wifi performance problems.
Keep an eye on your bandwidth
If you’re upgrading your school’s WLAN you’re most likely doing so to address a few things:
- Increasing device numbers
- New types of devices (tablets, laptops, smartphones, wearables, IoT)
- New programs BYOD, 1:1
- New applications (video streaming, learning management systems etc.)
These points create challenges to maintaining optimal wifi performance, and for a lot of schools this makes them look at their bandwidth.
Yes, for some schools a larger pipe will be necessary, however, for some, there might be other options available.
Bandwidth shaping or traffic shaping, prioritizes mission-critical applications over recreational ones, based off customized rules and policies.
Student access can be limited to solely educational applications while on campus during regular school hours. However, a different policy can allow students to have access to more recreational applications in after school programs, or during athletic events.
Prioritizations can include:
- Type of application
- End-user role
- Device type
Caching is another tool that helps decrease the time it takes to access web content. Now you don’t have to pull data/content from the original servers which speeds up load times as well as lowers the amount of traffic on your network.
Network Access Control
Security must be the foundation of your school’s entire network, if it’s not then your leaving both your school’s data and your student’s data exposed to a growing list of security threats.
Like many other industries K-12 schools also must comply to specific regulations, in this case CIPA.
While content security plays a big role in your security and compliance efforts, the big picture needs to be about understanding what your devices and end-users (students, teachers, guests) can do and what they can access or where they can go on both your network and the internet.
This means having some sort of network access control solution to identify, assign and enforce pre-determined security policies to control who can go where using what device.
This type of functionality isn’t standard with all WLAN systems from the start so you need to make sure you’ve addressed this issue before you deploy your wireless system. If you don’t, you’re looking at some serious costs after the fact.
Watch the short video below to learn more about why you need to consider NAC
Choosing the right wireless partner
Who you work with on your WLAN design is just as important as the design itself, in fact, they depend on each other.
The Wi-Fi engineering process is complicated and it takes both experience and the right certifications to get it done right the first time.
Working with a qualified partner can be the difference between a proper WLAN design that meets your performance requirements while maximizing your budget and a poor design that over charges you for things you don’t need, and leaves out things you do.
The illustration below is an example of the cost difference between a proper design and an incorrect design.
Click on the image to view a high-res version.
So how do you choose the right partner?
Here’s a quick video that point’s out four questions you should ask before you say yes.
At SecurEdge, we provide a platform to simplify networking and deliver a reliable, robust, and secure wireless system-–it’s all we do. If you have any questions or would like to discuss an upcoming project, please contact us here.