Internet access is a major component in schools today. Is your campus ready for broadband and BYOD policies?
Schools and colleges are quickly realizing that networks they set up in the 90s and 2000s just can't cut it in today's virtualized, high-speed online environment. To keep bringing students all the best aspects of globalized learning, you need a school WiFi network that delivers modern speeds and access policies.
Obviously, this isn't cheap, but we've boiled it down to five basic cost areas:
Five Major Cost Considerations For A School WiFi System
1 - Backbone / Architecture
Before you can have a WiFi network, you (usually) have to have machines on the back end doing the heavy lifting. The traditional model of large business-style networks involves using a central controller or hardware controller- that handles routing and translation of data across the network.
These controllers are usually a significant expense, generally running in the four-to-five figure range. They may also require subsidiary equipment to handle all the connections and you may need more than one at each of your network locations, depending on how many access points you have.
There is an alternative here, and one we frequently recommend to organizations like schools and hospitals: Virtualized networks on the ADTRAN BlueSocket and Meraki platform have no need for servers or controllers. These smart WiFi access points do all the work.
Both Meraki and Adtran access points allow you to scale and manage your entire network through one pane of glass elimianting controllers.
However you handle the backbone, the WiFi access points themselves become the next major cost hurdle. An effective school WiFi system requires generous coverage across all points on-campus, without dead zones. The general rule of thumb is that you need an access point for every classroom, although this may vary depending on local layout and usage.
You can optimize your AP placement by having an expert create a heatmap of your location prior to setting up the network. This is a predictive map that takes multiple factors into account, such as geography and wall construction materials, to show the best places to establish your APs.
Getting a heatmap ahead of time ensures you get the right number of access points - not too many, and not too few.
3 - Antennas
Depending on what your classroom walls are made of, and how large your campus is, you may have a need for special powered or directional antennas. These can be used to "punch through" thick concrete walls, or for broadcasting WiFi signals between distant buildings on a large plot of land.
This is another factor which can be predicted and accounted for ahead of time with a professional heatmap. Plus, smaller schools may not even need additional antennas.
4 - Bandwidth
Bandwidth will be an ongoing recurring cost, like water or electricity, which needs to be budgeted for. That said, it will likely not be a major cost consideration. Bandwidth is cheaper now, especially on commercial-grade lines which offer high access speeds to start with. A few phone calls (or a networking consultant) should bring fair, low rates.
5 - Software
Finally, there's the software needed to run\support your network. In most cases, your basic needs will be served by the network's own software. However, depending on how much student information you hold\manage, you may need better security systems.
Also, most school network upgrades are accompanied by a set of cloud-based software packages which are globally accessible. These are generally called "Student Management Systems," and can streamline a large number of student-teacher-parent interactions.
For example: teachers can upload test scores to an SMS whenever they want, which can then be accessed by families whenever they want.
WiFi Doesn't Have To Break The Budget
If your school needs a better network, but money is tight, contact Hummingbird Networks about our hardware options that are perfect for any school that needs a modern network.
Oh...and don't forget about making sure your firewall current as well :)