Three Factors Driving Better School WiFi

12th May 2014

High densities of WiFi users is a core concern for schools, colleges and universities. High client densities, hundreds of concurrent users, seamless roaming and airtight security; these are just a handful of challenges and considerations for schools and other educational establishments to tackle when planning a modern school wireless deployment.

Increased demands for universal wireless access within schools, colleges and universities, is being driven by innovations in digital learning, mass student mobile device adoption and 1:1 computing initiatives. This surge in critical Wi-Fi usage has put a strain on traditional networks, many of which were simply not built to cope with the sheer numbers of devices and their data hungry voice and video applications.

However, akin to many facets of modern life, the technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we work; and in education this is certainly true from both sides of the teacher’s desk. For school boards and IT departments, manoeuvring through the minefield of technical considerations - not to mention the countless vendor solutions, each one claiming to be the bee’s knees - could present a complicated, confusing and somewhat thankless task.

Number 1: Network Capacity

We have noticed that many wireless vendors and resellers are focused primarily on the coverage of school and education environments, with little mention of the capacity required to provide the consistent quality-of-service needed to cope. Although network coverage is by no means unimportant – and should in all cases, be a given – the high-density of concurrent users within schools, colleges and universities requires a particular focus on the capacity networks to function effectively under the considerable workload. Making the commitment to e-learning means that educational establishments must be efficient in their application of wireless devices; network downtime or slow connectivity will instantly and significantly reduce its potential advantages whilst simultaneously stomping on any ROI.

Many of today’s mobile users will typically carry 2 or 3 mobile devices, most of which will not have an Ethernet port. This makes wireless connection the default method of network access and can create major headaches for IT administrators who wish to achieve continuous network performance whilst benefiting from the provision of BYOD incentives.

Balancing the load on access points, providing the right amount of bandwidth to the right people and the right devices, and eliminating sticky-clients as users roam around the campus have become top priorities.

Number 2: Network Access control & Management

Controlling who is permitted to gain access to the school network, and exactly what level of access they are allowed, can make network management significantly more efficient.

By defining groups of users, such as teachers, students, admin and guests, managing school-issued devices and personal devices is made far simpler, and allowing access to the network becomes altogether less fraught.Using the existing Windows Active Directory structure to ensure full AAA (Authentication, Authorisation and Accounting/Auditing) makes good sense as most originations will already have these structures in place, allowing for granular policies to be deployed.

Number 3: Network Security & Duty-of-Care

Both network security and duty-of-care compliance are major concerns for schools who are providing their students with advanced Wi-Fi access and Internet roaming. The myriad of threats from potential inside attacks – as a result of unsecure student or teacher-owned devices – rogues applications and outside sources, requires a more sophisticated approach to network security.

Creating a balance between levels of access and network security is one of the most prominent challenges facing school wireless LAN and digital learning adoption today. Again, the need to segment not only users but different classes of device into different groups with different security profiles is crucial.

As technology advances and users become more IT savvy, the chances of accidental or malicious network compromise is increasingly likely, and in an educational setting where children across a breadth of ages are gaining networks access, providing deep granular inspection of traffic flows has never been more important.

Keep and eye-out for part 2 of this entry in which we'll look at the technology associated with improvements to school Wi-Fi.

Gregg Meade

What Next?

If you are planning to deploy an enterprise-grade wireless network or are experiencing problems with a existing setup, please feel free to contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.