Wi-fi: The four key considerations

Written by: Richard Nedwich | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Richard Nedwich discusses the four key aspects to focus on when considering the effectiveness and efficiency of your school’s wi-fi network

Transformation in the education sector is happening at an incredible rate, with more than 50 per cent of learning time in UK classrooms now spent using some sort of technology.

Figures suggest that more than three quarters of UK teachers are embracing the “digital classroom”, through innovations like smart whiteboards, collaborative learning tools and even virtual field trips. Internet empowers students, enabling them to access course materials online, explore a wealth of resources and connect with the outside world.

Earlier this year, the British Educational Suppliers Association applauded the government’s continued support for digital transformation in the education sector, saying that their commitment to investing in good broadband connections in schools highlights the importance of harnessing the opportunities that technology can bring.

To make sure that your school is able to stay ahead of the curve and benefit from all that the internet and new technologies have to offer, you need to make sure that your wireless network is robust enough. If it isn’t, it may be time to upgrade or make the switch to a different network.

To make sure that students and staff alike are empowered and not hindered by wi-fi, use the following tenets of good practice to evaluate your network.

The number of devices

Can your network manage the number of devices being used? You need to check that the network can deal with the amount and variety of devices being used. It needs to onboard and manage a large number of diverse devices – both those owned by the school and those bought in by pupils or visitors – without creating headaches for users and the help desk. It must be capable of accommodating users smoothly and delivering a consistent performance.

Purpose

What are devices being used for? As technology continues to advance, it is playing a powerful role in education, with schools exploring new ways to engage tech-savvy students and enhance their learning experience.

This increased use of digital technologies, however, places more pressure on the school’s network. Whether it is accessing virtual classrooms, ensuring students can see their timetables online or setting homework via a digital platform, you need to make sure the network can handle the growing demands that are placed on it.

One of the first steps to take is to check if students and teachers are experiencing slow load times or difficulties connecting to the internet, as this could indicate that the network is overwhelmed or that the infrastructure needs rethinking.

Coverage

Is coverage strong across the whole school? It’s essential that users can roam across the school without suffering a dip in coverage. Students should be able to go from classroom to classroom without having to reconnect.

The network should be able to cope with surges in demand – for example, when accommodating large numbers of guests during events – and manage high-density areas such as assembly areas, sports halls and the canteen. Connectivity shouldn’t drop when there is a sudden increase in the number of devices using the network, nor should it suffer when users are concentrated in a specific area of the school.

A common myth is that strong coverage is guaranteed by using a lot of access points (APs), which means it can be tempting to simply opt for the provider offering the most APs, perhaps one per classroom. This strategy doesn’t necessarily ensure better coverage and can be expensive and impractical.

If you think your wi-fi infrastructure needs improving and you’re thinking of changing provider, look for one that will optimise access points based on how they will be used.

A good provider will know how to carry out an in-depth site survey to pinpoint exactly where access points are needed to ensure high-speed connectivity in high-density environments.

The parameters they will consider include static factors, such as area to cover and construction materials (thick walls can sometimes slow down wi-fi) and dynamic factors, such as the number of devices per room and the applications used by these devices, as well as other unpredictable factors that may affect coverage.

Security

Is the network secure? As education practitioners, one of your key priorities will always be security. A common assumption is that having a password-protected network automatically guarantees security. However, this is not necessarily the case. Passwords are no longer needed to create a secure network, and what’s more, they can cause disruptions that will harm your school’s ability to benefit from the internet and classroom technologies. Instead, consider a certificate-based wi-fi, that will deliver a smooth service with no need for passwords, without compromising security.

Ready to embrace new technologies?

You need a network that has the built-in flexibility to grow with the school and adapt to the changing needs of teachers and pupils. Effectively, you want to “future-proof” the network, so that it will be able to support new advances in wi-fi technology and education software.

A good provider will work closely with you to determine what this means and make sure that the network they provide is capable of overcoming these challenges.
For today’s “digital native” students, technology is as much a part of daily life as electricity and running water, so consistent, reliable and secure wi-fi is fundamental to their learning experience.

The network serves a vital role in supporting the latest classroom technologies to engage students, enable personalised learning and inspire exploration of the modern world. It is not just the “plumbing”, rather it has become the platform for delivering an elevated classroom experience, from self-service access to improving student data privacy all while enabling the transformation to digital learning.

When considering an upgrade or new provider, it is important to make an informed decision – hopefully, this guide will help you to ask the right questions, to help you ensure your wi-fi is in its optimal state.

  • Richard Nedwich is global director of Education at Ruckus Wireless


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