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Setting Up School Wi-Fi Part 1: Smaller, Limited-User Networks


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 network for limited users (some staff, school guests, etc.). If you intend to connect the broader school community, we recommend working with a professional installer (and see Part 2 of this article for a guide to setting up larger networks).

Determine your coverage area

You know you want the main office, computer lab and library covered. After that, you’ll need to look at the needs of the remaining areas of the school. Do you want particular classrooms and labs covered? What about the teachers’ lounge? Once you’ve nailed down the areas in which you want to provide connectivity, you can move on to the next step.

Select a router and antenna

A wireless network is nothing more than a signal that carries data back and forth from the router (which is wired to the Internet connection) to the individual devices. The signal that Wi-Fi networks used is called IEEE 802.11 and refers to a set of standards for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 2.4, 3.6 and 5 GHz frequency bands. The standards are created and maintained by the IEEE LAN/MAN Standards Committee.

You will want a router that supports the 802.11g standards. That means it operates at 2.4GHz and 5GHz, delivers bandwidth of up to 300Mbps and is backward compatible with 802.11g and b (when operated at 2.4Ghz). Any office supply store stocks a variety of these routers with the priciest costing around $160. While those at the top of the price tier offer multiple bells and whistles, like simultaneous dual bands, there are plenty in the $100 range that can get the job done.

Because you are sending the signal to multiple locations over a significant distance, you will need an extender to bridge the gap. The same office supply store that carried the router will have the extender. They typically cost about $70. The number of extenders you’ll need depends greatly on the size of the building and the number of devices that will be using the signal.

For bigger schools, you’ll want to buy a high-gain antenna. These send radiation in a specific direction, like a laser. Because a high-gain antenna delivers a more concentrated radiation pattern, it's capable of spanning a greater distance. If your school requires this level of connectivity, we recommend bringing in an expert, as the installation requires mounting, weatherproofing and a certain level of skill. If you purchase the equipment (roughly a few hundred dollars), however, you can avoid having to pay the materials markup most installers add to their fees.

Lock it down

Every router on the market has a security feature. Even the most basic prompt you to select the level of security and create a password. We suggest selecting the highest level of security and creating a password that teachers will remember. Once you’ve got the network created and protected, you will have the tedious task of connecting all of the Internet devices to the network. Thankfully, this is a one-time job, since devices will remember the network even after being shut down or restarted.

Related resources

See Part 2 of this article for a guide to setting up larger networks that serve the broader school community.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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