Learning and teaching have both evolved in incredible ways over the last 5 years. From tablets like the iPad, BYOD, interactive learning, LMS (learning management systems) and now wearables and beacons, schools have become increasingly more dependent upon technology to be successful.
However, whenever I’ve had conversations with either students or teachers both groups share the same frustrations saying, “Technology is great, when it works” or they’ll say, “Yeah we have iPads but we never use them because the internet is so slow”.
These kinds of comments, while I’m sure they’re frustrating for them, are just as frustrating for us; the people who actually make it all work.
Yes school environments have become increasingly more complex, and yes there are quite a few obstacles to overcome, but building a successful school wireless network that actually supports the expectations of its users is more than possible today. You just have to know what you’re doing.
To help clear up any confusion on what’s needed to build a successful wireless network for your school, here’s a simple guide that details the core features you need for maximum performance.
Scalability and Proper Planning
If there’s one constant that holds true no matter what, it’s that things are always evolving. From the amount of users that you’re supporting, to the number and types of devices coming onto your network, what you’re dealing with now will almost certainly not be what you’re dealing with in 2-3 years.
Performance and technical capabilities are also changing rapidly, it was only a few years ago that most schools were still deploying 802.11n and now were starting to deploy 802.11ac wave 2 which is light years ahead of where 11n ever was.
You can’t predict the future but you can definitely be proactive instead of reactive. This doesn’t mean go crazy and design a system meant for 10,000 students when you only have 500, but it does mean putting in the right technology pieces that will allow you to expand comfortably as your needs evolve, specifically when it comes to capacity and coverage.
You can’t make the necessary design updates to support things like new devices without knowing exactly what your current environment looks like, and the best place to start is with a site-survey.
In addition you can perform application performance tests to test your network’s capabilities from the perspective of the end-user which can be extremely beneficial; you can even run what-if scenarios to further test your network to measure where you are against where you need to be.
Planning never stops, and you’ll never really ever be done with it, however knowing that you’re making informed decisions based on proper analysis will make it all worth it.
Role-Based Access Control and Bandwidth Shaping
With BYOD in schools today, visibility has become a mission critical asset for every successful school wireless network.
You have to have an easy and automated way to register both your users and their devices while at the same time assigning specific roles and to each user.
This functionality will provide the necessary level of visibility, allowing you to see who is on your network, what device they’re using, and what applications they’re using on your network.
Suggested Reading: "What is Network Access control (NAC)?"
We can take this a step further however. Now that you have clearly identified and assigned a role to each user you can create policies that will not only keep them and your network safe but will also help maximize your performance as well in the form of bandwidth shaping.
You can now limit what certain users have access to and how much bandwidth you make available to them. This could be based on time of day, role, where they’re located or even the type of device they’re using.
Now teachers that are trying to give an online test won’t be interrupted by poor performance because students elsewhere are trying to stream YouTube.
Next time you’re experiencing poor performance, the answer might not be a bigger pipe, it might be having better visibility and the right set of rules.
Centralized Wi-Fi Management
Can you image managing your entire network, which could consist of 100’s or even 1000’s of access points manually? This is just not an option for a successful network, you can’t expect to be efficient or provide the support needed in today’s complex school environments with outdated manual processes.
From troubleshooting to pushing out updates, centralized wifi management is a must to be successful. Beyond the obvious benefits, wifi management offers some impressive other features that make it even more of a mission critical asset.
Here are only a few of the many advantages of having a centralized wifi management system in place:
- Real-time visibility of wifi coverage
- Real-time views of mobile device and application performance data
- Historical data
- Faster problem solving
- Proactive alert notifications
These are just three components that make up a successful wireless network in education today. It’s important to remember that every environment and every situation is unique and requires its own specific design to correctly support its goals.
If you have any questions regarding your current wireless network or a future design, please contact us here, secure mobility is what we do and we’d be glad to help.