EducationWorld thanks Ryan Smith, IT consultant to www.itsrelevant.com, for contributing this article.
Is your school a last bastion for hard-wired connectivity? If you’re looking to keep up with the fast-moving world of business, consider making the jump to Wi-Fi.
While the prospect of setting up Wi-Fi for a school may seem daunting, EducationWorld offers the following guide to creating a large network that serves many members of the school community (see Part 1 of this article for tips on setting up a smaller, limited-user network). For larger networks, we recommend working with a professional installer.
First things first
Administrators should begin by clearly defining their goals for implementing a Wi-Fi network. Often schools will jump too quickly into a wireless project and end up purchasing the wrong equipment or configuring it the wrong way.
It helps to break down wireless networks into two main categories. The first is the convenience network, where administrators want something with basic functionality. The second is the mission critical network, where wireless performance, uptime and security are essential to the school’s success.
There are numerous wireless equipment vendors out there. Some are great at delivering quick and easy wireless access but fall short on the performance and security aspects. Others make robust platforms with advanced performance and security that in some cases may be overkill.
Who, where and what?
Once a goal and direction are established, you’ll need to identify who the network will serve and where these users are. Will this wireless network serve different types of users who need to be isolated? For example, you certainly don’t want students and guest users to have access to the administrators’ network. Also, you might want to set up blocks to prevent unauthorized users.
Next, determine where different groups of users reside in your school. Do they move around from place to place, or are they pretty much in a common office area? This will help you begin to count how many wireless access points you need and where to place them.
In addition, consider what users are going to do with their wireless network. Will they make voice and video calls or mostly just casually surf the Web? Voice and video calls require seamless coverage with no dead spots, while with Web surfing, this isn’t as important.
Finally, it’s important to figure out how many users and devices you expect on your wireless network—this year, next year and the year after. Remember that each user may use multiple devices such as a laptop, tablet and smart phone. This means that even if you have only 10 users, there may be upwards of 30 devices talking on the network. You’ll also want to plan for unexpected growth. If you plan for 100 devices and then grow to 200 next year, can your wireless network support the additional load? How difficult will it be to add additional capacity to the network? These are all critical questions to consider in the planning and design stage.
Once you have all of this information, sit down and discuss it with your staff and your professional installer. Review different manufacturers and decide which one best fits your needs and budget. Take into account unforeseen costs such as maintenance renewals and setup fees. Also, make sure your building or district’s tech coordinator is comfortable with the plan, since he or she will have to support it. Buying a cheap system that is difficult to maintain won’t help you in the long run.
Ensuring adequate access
The next step is figuring out how many access points (APs) you need and where to put them. Place APs where there are high quantities of users, and place enough to support all of them. Check with the manufacturer to determine how many devices they support per AP. When planning your AP deployment, it’s helpful to get a floor map of each level of the building. Take this diagram and walk around the building, into every room and space. Mark where APs should go and where they shouldn’t. Remember that every AP will need a Cat5e cable run to it and power either via Ethernet or a local power source.
Once all your APs are placed and connected to the network, it’s time to configure. Some wireless products push configurations from a central controller, while others require configuring each individual AP. In either case, keep in mind all the questions you addressed earlier and remember to follow your manufacturer’s and industry’s best practices.
Once your network is configured, do a walk-through of your building. Do you have coverage in the areas you expected? Is the performance what you expected? Keep an open mind and remember that some adjustments may be needed. You may need to move an AP because of a previously unseen interference source, or you might need to tweak a security setting to provide a desired level of protection. Plan for a few mishaps and allow time to work through them.
After the installation, let your users have at it. Be prepared for a few glitches. Certain users won’t be able to connect, some will get disconnected, and others won’t understand what wireless is—this all comes with the territory. While users are actively using the network, walk around and assess performance and usability. Talk with them and find out about their experiences with the network. If needed, make changes to improve usability.
See Part 1 of this article for tips on setting up a smaller, limited-user Wi-Fi network.
Copyright © 2011 Education World