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What the New E-rate Regulations Mean for Your Wi-Fi Network

New federal guidelines change the way schools can purchase managed Wi-Fi

With FCC changes to the E-rate program, districts can increase spending on Wi-Fi connectivity. The ability to purchase managed Wi-Fi is another recent change. This web seminar, originally broadcast on September 17, 2014, featured an industry expert, as well as two district technology directors, who discussed key considerations for technology planning around the new Wi-Fi E-rate regulations. They also went over deployment options for managed Wi-Fi and how it can support BYOD, 1-to-1 and improved learning environments.

Michelle Southerland 
Product Manager
ADTRAN ProServices

The average North American user has three wireless-connecting devices with them at any given time. The last time I connected my laptop to a wired port? Once in the last two years. We expect wireless, we need wireless—we expect it to be fast, we expect it to be always on. The ideal wireless experience accomplishes four objectives: 1. It empowers teachers. 2. It enhances student learning. 3. It minimizes IT operational expenses, and it also minimizes the burden and impact on those lean resources. 4. It enhances security. This is not limited to only compliance regulations—although that’s obviously extremely critical—but also to how it can actually improve the physical security of guests coming onto campus.

I thought it was interesting that when the FCC released the changes at the end of July about E-rate funding, they talked about closing the Wi-Fi gap. They mentioned that three out of five schools in the United States lack the wireless capability needed to make improvements to their education technology. Half of the school buildings have inferior wiring. And a survey done in 2010 revealed that about half of E-rate applicants had broadband access that was slower than the average American home. This is all a very good indication that we’re not quite where we want to be holistically in achieving that wireless experience. Curriculum is now being built around wireless devices. E-textbooks, video content, government initiatives such as Common Core—all of these things are starting to drive and push the evolution of wireless in our classrooms.

Another thing that is so prevalent and has changed how schools deal with wireless is the surge of “bring your own device,” or “bring your own tablet.” So, depending on how you’re going to achieve device usage in the classroom, it’s very critical that part of your strategy for using your E-rate fund is choosing the right type of wireless deployment and services to handle those devices. Often this investment in a managed wireless solution also includes hosting. So instead of being an on-premises deployment, everything is now hosted in a cloud-based solution. You’re not investing in a piece of technology that will sit at your school and then need to be forklifted or ripped out when you grow to a certain number of students or a certain number of access points. Instead, it can continue to scale as you grow, so it’s cost-effective—it’s a protected investment.

When we talk about minimizing those IT burdens, this plays such a huge role, because when you do a managed wireless service, you now have partnership in delivering the day-to-day services, monitoring the network, performing changes to the network, having reports stating what the health your wireless network is. We’ll talk to you sooner, we’ll resolve your problems faster, and we’ll make sure that when you need new equipment you’ll get it quicker than you would anywhere else. Moreover, you are always on reliable networks. When you choose to leverage a hosted and managed plan on the cloud, you have geo-redundancy. You are primed to have this always-on, very reliable, consistently accessible network. That is so critical when you think about empowering teachers and facilitating learning. You can just focus on why everyone came in that day, which is to make sure that those students have the education that they need to be successful.

Ron McDaniel 
Director of Technology
Conecuh County Schools

We are in our fourth year of our last E-rate supported or purchased wireless infrastructure. We are definitely seeing an overload of devices. We have a “no cellphone” policy, although we can simply look at the statistics and realize that this policy is not being enforced. We see an overload of cellphones on the network, as well as tablets. Our switching infrastructure is HPoE Plus. That is currently delivering power to the APs that are installed in our schools, and we’re supporting approximately a one-to-two device ratio.

Our network traffic consists of voice over IP, which we rolled out this past summer; IP security, which probably uses the greatest amount of bandwidth on our network; and because we are a rural system, we do a lot of IVC, or distance-learning traffic. Our three rural schools use video conferencing equipment to teach some of the seventh and eighth grade classes all day long. We’re weighing the decision between selecting a managed or purchased Wi-Fi solution. One of the areas that will determine our decision is certainly the cost comparison of the managed services versus the purchased service.

Reliability will also be a big factor, of course. We are supporting many state initiatives, and those continue to grow every year. We are doing a lot of online testing, so we’re seeing a greatly increased importance on the reliability of the network that we’re providing to the schools. Lastly, we are looking at manageability. How much manageability will we have of a managed or cloud-based service compared to something that we own and is managed internally?

Tommy Whitten 
Director of Technology
Madison County Schools

Our network is scattered. All of the locations, on average, are about 15 miles from my central location. It’s about 60 miles from our farthest schools to the next farthest schools. Each school connects to us with a Metro-E fiber. This comes to our central location, which then goes out to our internet service provider, which is The Alabama Supercomputer Network. Most of our schools are equipped with the old 802.11g access points, which we installed a number of years ago. That seemed to service our schools—we covered all of our classrooms and it handled everything pretty well. Then the iPads showed up. All of a sudden the need for wireless went from “convenient” to “necessary.” We’ve already upgraded five of our schools to 802.11n.

As for our bandwidth, we’re running about 100MB in the high schools. Before, we thought the high schools would be the heavy users, but now with the iPads and lots of things going out in the cloud, it’s all grade levels. So we will have to increase all of our bandwidth to be able to handle what we’re about to do. Our goal is to have all the schools upgraded in the next year or two to support a district-wide BYOD initiative. We have chosen the ADTRAN Bluesocket solution, and a big reason is because of the virtual controllers. We have a very small staff for what we are trying to do, so if we can get some help in providing support to our schools, we will certainly want to grab that—and that’s where a hosted solution is an advantage for us.

Wi-Fi seems to be changing now; the standards seem to be changing. There are a lot of AP’s that are coming out, different standards that either increase your accessibility, or the speed, or the penetration of the wireless network. Having a hosted solution ensures that we can stay current with those upgrades.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.districtadministration.com/ws091714