Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wi-Fi for All, 5 Things to Consider

I recently read the post on Edudemic, "We Get Wi-Fi With Our Coffee, Why Not Our Schools?" and breathed a sigh of relief.  My district had finally taken the bold necessary step of providing district wide WiFi for students and staff to start this year.

We recently received a QZAB 'grant' that paid for quite a few technology pieces in our districts master technolgoy plan.  Included in that purchase was 910 chromebooks.  The backbone for this project, however, was district wide WiFi.  The Chromebooks required it and we needed to move into the 21st century. Here are 5 things to consider to consider with WiFi:

Get IT specialists involved early
We are lucky enough to consult and work with a local IT company.  They helped us make the connections with manufacturers who then sent engineers out to our sites to get a fully customized WiFi infrastructure. This partnership resulted in a comprehensive system that should cover our needs for at least 10+ years.

What do you want to be able to do?
Because we got IT specialists involved early, we were able to distill the essence of what we were trying to accomplish.  Knowing that we wanted Chromebooks, BYOD, and guest access provided the crucial elements in the decision making process.  I can't tell you how many times I wanted to scream when the question, "what do you want to be able to do?" was asked.  Without it, however, we would have ended up with something we couldn't use or overpay for something we would never use.

Plan for density as well as coverage
Coverage is not enough anymore.  We estimate that we will have 5 devices per person in our district within the next 5 years.  For a district our size, that resulted in almost 15,000 connections for employees and students.  This means we needed density.  Consumer based routers are going to 'melt' under a tenth of that kind of load.  We placed density access points (APs) in key locations where we knew use would be the heaviest.  Our system allows us the flexibility of swapping out APs as our need for density increases for years to come.

Businesses use enterprise level WiFi security.  Schools are businesses; our business is facilitating ensuring student learning. Schools need enterprise level WiFi security.  Don't skimp on security. Without properly secured WiFi, you run the risk of opening your entire network (including confidential information) to anyone who accesses it.

Sticker shock
Boy oh boy did we have sticker shock.  WiFi is not cheap.  Once we were able to apply appropriate education discounts and identify our maximum budget, the manufacturer worked with us to meet our needs. This is an investment in our infrastructure much like a desk, chair, or building is an investment in education. Have a dollar amount in mind and work within it for the best possible solution for you.

Photo credit
WiFi Logo - miniyo73, used under Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic