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Big District Wi-Fi Technology for Small and Medium-Sized Districts

Even small districts with limited budgets and staff can be high tech with the latest Wi-Fi technology

Small and medium-sized districts have unique challenges in establishing ongoing technology sustainability. However, even with limited funds and staff, it is possible for schools to have maximum functionality and ease of management with the latest technology products available. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on February 26, 2013, an IT manager from the Hamilton Heights (Ind.) School District shared how his school system was able to implement the Wi-Fi capabilities of a much larger district with a much smaller budget.

Kathleen Cecchini
Sales Engineer

ADTRAN® is a leading global provider of innovative networking and communications equipment. We have a broad portfolio of intelligent solutions. We have delivered smart solutions for business and residential connectivity for more than 25 years. Our mission is to be a trusted provider of global communications solutions that make communications simpler and more affordable anywhere in the world. Our goal is to support customers beyond expectations.

ADTRAN® has a history of working with more than 200 K12 schools, as well as universities and public libraries. We have solutions for both large and small school districts. The rise in popularity of BYOD has driven the need for anytime access, from anywhere, from any mobile device. Your school wireless network will be tested on multiple avenues, including scalability. When students and teachers are bringing their own devices, you now have two to three times as many devices competing for access on your network.

People will carry two, three, or more devices, including tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Another avenue making its way into your world is that applications today, such as e-textbooks and online testing, require high bandwidth. In the past, Wi-Fi was typically only in certain common areas. Today, you need coverage in all classrooms, public areas, meeting spaces and even outdoor green spaces. Finally, you need to secure your own network. You need to make sure the devices your teachers and students are bringing in will work with your current authentication policy. At the same time, you need to be able to detect threats and rogue access.

All of these things are happening right now. They are putting incredible pressure on your network. From the IT management team’s perspective, we need to have a unified service experience across all networks. There needs to be centralized policy management and enforcement, and a consistent user experience. We want users to be able to sign onto the network once, be authenticated, and seamlessly roam across any school or district office.

A centrally managed control will ensure a consistent user experience, provide traffic management, and streamline policies. So where should your network be now? What is the ideal solution? Schools are deploying their own private clouds with a wireless vWLAN solution from ADTRAN® Bluesocket. We’re talking about one centralized point for control. The controller does not have to be a physical appliance any more. It can operate on VMware®. It’s very scalable. We can support a very large number of users and access points at a low cost. vWLAN is ADTRAN® Bluesocket’s virtual wireless LAN solution that is a cloud-based virtualized management and control mechanism with maximum scalability and reliability.

The control software is a comprehensive, integrated solution that allows you to configure and manage your access points, SSIDs and wireless IDs, set up users, define access controls, and manage guest access. You can back up and restore your system. It also provides very useful reports on access points. The access points do not have to be located in the same building as the VMware®, allowing you to create your cloud in a district office or wherever you want. Our system is cost effective. A typical physical wireless controller costs $25,000 and can support up to 150 access points or 4,000 users. With the ADTRAN® Bluesocket software, you can support 1,500 access points and 48,000 users. The cost for the vWLAN software is zero. You only need to add access points.

David Slabe
IT Operations Manager
Hamilton Heights (Ind.) School District

Hamilton Heights has 2,200 students and four schools. We’re at 52 percent free and reduced E-rate, with no new money coming in. We are currently not a growing district and have been focusing on enticing students from other larger schools in the area, with factors such as our personalized instruction. Some time ago, we tried to figure out when and how we could become a 1:1 district. We went with a convertible netbook for our fifth through eighth graders and will have iPads for our high schoolers next year. We had implemented a BYOD policy in the past, but now are providing a consistent device for all students. With a small IT staff, our helpdesk is run by students.

It’s amazing what an eighth grader can do as a first line of defense when it comes to IT support. We were able to build our wireless LAN from the ground up. We wanted a multi-building, enterprise-class WLAN. I inquired about long-term, ten-year costs. We wanted reliability, ease of management, fantastic vendor support, and something that is upgradeable in the future. ADTRAN® Bluesocket was our choice, partly because it works with other network products we already had in place. The off-time updates that ADTRAN® Bluesocket provides gives my staff flexibility. Updates can be scheduled at night, so there is no need to restart the entire system during the day.

In 2009, we had a small deployment in our wireless computer labs to test robustness and consistency. We have since tripled our size in wireless access in all of our buildings. Within seven years, we’ve gone from 400 devices to 1,800. Students and teachers love being able to use their own devices, as well as the devices the school provides, on our network. Based on who a user is, traffic can be segmented, redirected, and limited. When selecting your wireless solution, you must investigate the ongoing costs compared to other systems, as well as receive sufficient training on the solution. You need to know the full capabilities and realistically what you will implement from that capability list.

Be open to process changes. Know the importance of role-based authentication; for example, we allow administrators to access private financial information from any of our seven locations, while maintaining the same security as if they were at a physical restricted location. I also recommend developing a strong relationship with your reseller. We currently have an SSID at each building and will move to one SSID for all buildings in the future. We also want to add public wireless throughout. Because of some of our classroom management packages, we needed to have staff and students on the same network, which can be concerning.

We’d love to grow into having different networks for each member role. Cecchini: David mentioned migrating from multiple SSIDs to one. I think we’ve all been brainwashed to think that for every user type (guest, student, etc.), you need a separate SSID. With the role-based authentication in the vWLAN, you don’t need multiple SSIDs anymore. No more calls to the helpdesk from users trying to figure out which SSID they need to log on to. When users log on, they are placed into different subnets based on their user type. Part of that role-based authentication puts the user on a specific subnet. One thing you don’t want to have to become is a Wi-Fi engineer. You don’t want to spend your time during design or implementation walking around with a spectrum analyzer, trying to figure out why you are getting dead spots in certain areas. There is a built-in auto RF tool in our vWLAN that scans congestion and channels.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: