WiFi

How To Improve Your Network Without Major Investment

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Simple ways to Improve your Network Without Major Investment

Who knows how many more devices will be in the Christmas haul for students, staff, and faculty? You can certainly be sure most of those new devices will appear on campus at some point or another. However, you are not likely to find an unexpected budget for a major network overhaul in your stocking. But if there is something left in the budget, you might be able to make a big difference with some small improvements.

1. Take another look at what you are made of

When planning a network by looking at blueprints and floor plans, the basic question of building materials is easily overlooked. Those materials can make a big difference to the reach of a WiFi network, however.

Dense building materials like brick or rock could smother your wireless signal. Materials that hold water can also sabotage signal strength. Not taking into account a bathroom in the way can play havoc with signal strength.

If there are dead spots in your network, double check whether you have taken building materials properly into account. Buying a more advanced access point for a place where the signal is weak will not cost the earth. And it could give you a fast, reliable connection where you did not have one before.

2. Follow the crowd

WiFi users will mob in the places with the best signals. The problem is that those mobs then bring down the very network speeds they were chasing.

You might see real benefits in a small investment in access points in the locations where users would gather if only the WiFi were better. The right access point in the right place could give you double benefit:

  1. You have good WiFi where there were only complaints before

  2. You have even better WiFi where users used to congregate in greater numbers

3. Invest in Analytics

It might be time to invest in an analytics tool. If you already have good analytics tools, it might be time to fund a project to study the data. There are questions that you should know the answers to in order to make the most of your current WiFi:

  • Who is using your network

  • When they are using it

  • Where they are using it

  • What they are using it for

The answer to getting more from your network is not always going to be to buy more bandwidth, for instance. It might be a question of allocating what you already have better—perhaps spreading it further and more efficiently as with the suggestions here. It might also be a question of defining better rules for which data has priority.

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Is Your Network Ready For Student Demands?

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The Future Of Education Requires WiFi


Once upon a time, handheld calculators were the height of student technology. Now, students are coming to school with multiple devices, each trying hard to connect to the Internet through your campus network. Is your network up to the challenge?

Some student devices place a heavy load on the campus network when they're used to watch video content that makes up part of a classroom curriculum. Other devices won't make constant demands of the network but will be part of the steady drip of bandwidth that adds up to a significant overall network load.

Network Provision Affects Education Outcomes

Within the classroom walls, there are a couple basic network divisions that student devices can use. How you provision and manage them significantly impacts how successfully:

  • Teachers integrate student devices into the learning process
  • Each device can function as a network endpoint

1. The Cabled vs Cellular Networks

The cabled network and cellular data network are, in many ways, at opposite ends of the classroom use spectrum.

Cable connections will almost always go to devices owned and tightly controlled by the school. That use is so thoroughly presumed that the cabled network often skips one or more authentication steps required on the wireless network.

The cellular data network, on the other hand, will be used almost exclusively by student mobile devices. School network architects can use those facts to balance their network traffic to help all users have a better experience.

Keeping as many school-owned systems as possible on the cabled network means that the impact from student devices is minimized.

Shifting student devices to the cellular data network rather than the campus WiFi also reduces their impact on other users.

Network managers must decide whether that reduction is enough to justify allowing classroom material to be transmitted over the cellular network and, if so, whether the school should explore installing femtocell transceivers to encourage students to keep their devices off the school's WiFi network.

2. 2.4GHz vs 5GHz Protocols

A growing number of wireless mobile devices can take advantage of 5GHz WiFi protocols that are both faster and able to gracefully support more users. Pushing school-owned wireless devices to 5GHz channels makes the most of the spectrum, leaving the slower 2.4GHz band for older student-owned devices.

Student-owned devices are complicating life for school network managers, but a Current Technologies designed network plan for balancing traffic across all available network technologies can keep the student body’s mobile fleet from wreaking havoc on your computers. Our team specializes in taking your current system and making the most out of it or building you a totally new system to your exact specifications.

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2018-19 School Year Technology Checklist

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Making your list for the year ahead


In the ongoing cycle of the educational year, it’s buying season for primary and secondary schools. That means schools and school districts are looking at the technology available for students, faculty, and staff. Then, they’re trying to make decisions that will affect those users for the next three to five years (or more). What are the products that school IT staff should be considering, given the march of technology and the lessons learned in the last few years? Let’s take a look at the issues and technologies for each of the constituents that school IT must consider.

Security

For faculty, the key considerations are security and the ability to work successfully with a wide variety of instructional media. The first of these considerations is obvious because FERPA requires it. Student data must be kept secure. The challenging piece of this is, of course, that the data must also be accessible to faculty and authorized staff at a moments notice.

Look for multi-factor authentication built into hardware and graphics capabilities that make it possible to run virtual desktops. These simply eliminate many of the security issues around sensitive data. When it comes to things like student data, it is wise to talk with professionals. Current Technologies has been working with schools for 20+ years and keeping their data secure.

Wi-Fi

The more technology gets integrated into schools, the more bandwidth schools are going to need. Streaming videos, internet searches and an array of learning applications all require bandwidth. With a slow connection, it could take half of a period just for students to load what they need.

The recently released 802.11ac Wave 2 is providing schools with more than 6Mbps, which is a huge upgrade from 802.11ac. With more students bringing their own devices from home and teachers continually integrating more technology, bandwidth has to grow. 802.11ac Wave 2 has done that and can last long into the future. 

Device mix

Student workstations are changing as school systems revisit desktop and laptop computers.

Tablets will remain relevant, although many schools have found that without comprehensive lesson plans and dedicated support infrastructure, tablets don’t necessarily provide the desired results.

While some schools allow students to bring family-owned tablets, school-provided desktop computers are more rugged, more easily secured, and more capable than tablets.

Mobility

Staff members are among the computer users who are focused on mobility for their systems. Part of this is due to requirements that administrators and specialists take systems home to complete work.

Another consideration is on-campus (or between-campus) mobility to supervise multiple locations or functions within the school. For these employees, convertible systems that combine laptop and tablet functionality are gaining popularity, especially with the addition of FERPA-compliant mobile device management (MDM) software to ensure security.

Networking, device mix, mobility, and security are the primary hardware considerations driving changes in education systems. For educational IT specialists, specifications for these three should be part of any requirements list for this year’s shopping season.

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Making Tomorrow's Classroom Today

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Creating the Right Network Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s Digital Learners


Changes in how teachers use technology to reach students is causing network administrators to reconsider the way they think about network bandwidth, and these changes are speeding up hardware refresh cycles. Are you ready?

Two huge factors are driving these rapid changes in educational networking:

  1. The way that faculty members are using media to reach students
  2. The number of devices each student brings on campus

The changes will require network administrators to rethink their network bandwidth situation.

Teacher's and student's need for more network bandwidth is placing some institutions in a tricky spot, especially if wireless access points were just upgraded two or three years ago. However, the new upgrade is one that will meet school’s needs well into the future.

Video Drives the Network

Everyone wants their YouTube and cat videos. And in class, professors are not projecting video onto a central screen. They are giving students a URL to watch the video on their personal devices. The class is now responsible for 20 - 200 network streams instead of one.

That and students constantly checking for mail and social media updates mean a dramatic increase in the bandwidth required to each classroom, and to the campus as a whole.

New WiFi to the Rescue

The good news is that a new wireless networking standard, 802.11ac Wave 2 has now entered the field. 802.11n Wave 1, the highly successful predecessor to Wave 2, could provide bandwidth of more than 700 Mbps. Access points for 802.11ac Wave 2 can provide up to 7 gigabits per second of speed. It can also provide that high-speed access to some devices while providing lower speeds to older clients. The whole network does not slow down when old devices are present.

802.11ac Wave 2, which was certified by the WiFi Alliance and rolled out late 2016 solves many wireless issues but creates a need for a faster and more robust backbone. Current Technologies is partnered with Aruba Networks, Cisco Systems, and Aerohive Networks to customize a  wireless access system using the most up-to-date technology that delivers superb WiFi performance.

New Wireless Means new Wires

Most campuses have gigabit ethernet supplying their access points. Obviously, 7-gigabit access points need more than one gigabit Ethernet, so some campuses have begun dropping 10-gigabit lines to their APs. Also, these faster APs require Power Over Ethernet+, which may involve new injectors or Ethernet switches. These are not small costs because they involve changing physical infrastructure in existing structures.

Moving to 802.11ac is not like the move from 802.11a to 802.11n. The new move is a significant upgrade to the infrastructure.

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We need to embrace technology to make learning more engaging. Because when students are engaged and interested, that is when learning takes place.
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