When accessing your WiFi needs there are a couple of essential questions that need answers.
- How many devices (at most) do you expect you will have on the WiFi at any one time?
- What will the WiFi be used for? (Surfing the net, app accessibility, downloading, or uploading data)
- How large an area are you trying to provide WiFi too? (Gymnasium, classroom, auditorium…etc.)
- What kind of control or safe guards do you need?
The answers to these questions can help you to narrow down your needs so that you get exactly what is necessary to provide effective wireless internet for your device implementation.
In this post I will discuss the low end WiFi solution (cheap and simple) and the high end WiFi solution (expensive and complex). Before we begin let me say that this should probably be the very first thing you implement before buying WiFi devices like iPads. A good WiFi connection will make all the difference in user ability and device readiness. If you have an unreliable internet connection or no internet at all it can make using tablets, like iPads, more frustrating then exciting for both the teachers and students. Often times I say that you would have been better off not getting them at all if you don’t have the wifi infrastructure to support them.
When we (the technology committee) began the iPad implementation at St. Matthew Lutheran School in Walled Lake, MI we addressed the WiFi issue from the start. We knew that in order for the iPads to be effective, that we would need a reliable internet solution. Up to that point there had been an individual router in each teacher’s classroom. Though this can work it is not ideal and here is why.
Where we started. Router issues…
St. Matthew has had a laptop cart for a while so this isn’t the first WiFi device implementation to be done at St. Matthew. Every time the laptops were moved from room to room they didn’t always pick up the new router. This meant that the teachers had to help students connect to each individual WiFi router each time they got the laptops out. The ideal setup would have been an automatic connection (which iPads and tablets do well…laptops…not always) or less wifi routers.
There is also the issue of safety.First, having an open unsecured WiFi network is fine if you have a user agreement that people have to agree to through what they call a “captive portal.” If you don’t know what that is, it is the page that pops-up (like at McDonald’s or Barnes and Noble) that makes you agree to the terms and conditions of that institution so far as the wireless internet is concerned. This gives your institution a legal safeguard against illegal activity on public WiFi. Your “over the counter” routers often times do not provide this feature. Second, when students are on a school network you want to be sure that ONLY students are on that network. This is especially important at the elementary level where students are just starting to become aware of what the internet is capable of. We also want to make sure that there are no creepers/hackers that are trying to text, message, or contact students in anyway.
If you have a small school of just a couple hundred students then you may be able to do individual routers from a local big box store. First, they are cheaper. Second you can buy signal boosters for your router so that the signal stretches further. If you go this route I suggest buying the best over the counter router you can. It may run you $100-$200 but it will provide the most features for security and the best signal strength. Also, make sure that the model you buy can be paired with a wifi booster (often times sold on or near the same shelf!). My only recommendation with this system is that you password protect the network, especially if the router is plugged into your schools hard line. Remember, the more networks you have the greater the frustration of your teachers and students when the devices don’t connect automatically!
If you have the money, then I recommend installing a muraki (now Cisco), aerohive, ruckus, or some other professional grade wifi network. Several key advantages to this type of wireless include reliability, excellent signal strength, cloud control and monitoring, and easy scalability. These systems can be costly to implement ($500-$700 per access point) and in our school/church we installed 11 of them. If you can come up with the money this system is great! It is a cloud based system, meaning that you can control the system from an Internet browser anytime anywhere.