Tips for Implementing a Wireless Network
This quick-start guide will provide you with the basic points to consider before installing a wireless network in your school. Since many school districts have already implemented wireless networks, there is a lot of information available online to assist in the process. Use this guide to search out additional information on each topic.
1. Determine your needs. Mobility, flexibility and expandability are the most attractive features of wireless networks. How do these fit your goals? Most schools that have implemented wireless laptop carts benefit from the mobility and flexibility of that arrangement. This allows teachers to set up labs on the fly by plugging access points into the wired network. The expandability of wireless networks allows schools to start with a few carts and access points, and then expand as needed. These features can enhance the value of your existing wired network.
2. Decide which wireless network hardware is best for you (see chart below for assistance). Consider manageability, scalability, support, dependability and compatibility when choosing a product. Each of these factors raises different issues that must be considered. Manageability refers to how the access points can be managed remotely once installed. Whether or not the firmware in the access points can be upgraded is one factor of scalability. Support, dependability and compatibility speak for themselves.
3. Determine your layout. Consider a professional site survey to determine the number and location of your access points. Some vendors will do this as part of a quote; however, this will require you to compare several different plans and numbers of access points. For example, will you be using fixed or mobile access points? Many schools start by placing access points on carts with mobile laptops. A fixed, total coverage implementation allows full roaming and the use of other devices such as wireless handhelds and wireless IP phones. This is the ideal configuration, but also the most expensive since a medium-size high school could have as many as 90 access points.
4. Consider security. Adding wireless to your existing network opens a new path for outsiders to break in. An unsecured wireless network can be accessed by individuals outside of the building walls. (Search the phrase “war chalking” to learn more.) All access points offer some limited security, but in most cases it is insufficient. While new standards for security are due to be approved, they may not be in place before your next purchase. Many schools have also implemented third-party solutions to protect their networks. Typically, these boxes (i.e., computers) cause all wireless users to authenticate or log in before using the network.
5. Conduct a total cost of ownership analysis. Consider the following: hardware costs, security costs, access point management, technical training, ongoing costs such as professional development and maintenance, and indirect costs.
Update on New Standards
New wireless standards that add functionality to the original 802.11 standard include 802.11e and 802.11i. The 802.11e standard will address something called “quality of service,” and will become more important as schools try to carry different kinds of data over the same wireless network. This standard also puts a needed priority on traffic since voice and video traffic are more susceptible to poor quality than typical computer communications. This standard is still under review. Finally, the new 802.11i standard addresses the security issues related to wireless networks, because the original 802.11b security protocols have already been compromised. Products that currently incorporate this standard can be found at the Wi-Fi Alliance Web site (www.wi-fi.org/OpenSection).
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.