Northern Lights School Division

People from urban areas take the simplicity of connecting to the Internet for granted, as their phone lines and cable television wiring presents options when choosing an ISP. In rural areas, the process of surfing the Web can be much more difficult. Many places do not have the necessary lines in place due to rough terrain or cost prohibitions, and digging into rugged terrain or heavily forested areas to lay cable is not practical.

When the idea of connecting schools in a 9,523 square kilometer section of rural Alberta, Canada was brought up, many people dismissed it as impossible. Yet, in less than a year, Wi-LAN wireless technology was able to connect each school within that area -- twice the size of the Grand Canyon -- to the Internet using their advanced wireless Ethernet bridges. "We heard that the Medicine Hat School Board successfully implemented the Wi-LAN technology," says Gary Krawchuk, secretary treasurer for the Northern Lights School Division, No. 69. "After talking to Wi-LAN's representatives, we viewed the wireless technology as our only alternative, especially when compared to the cost of a 56K land-line solution."

The Northern Lights School Division entered the world of connectivity to comply with a mandate set by the Canadian government, which stated that every school must have access to the Internet. For the Northern Lights School Division, this was easier said than done. A single 56K line was installed into each school in the mid-'90s, providing one machine per school with Internet access. This met the immediate needs of schools in Alberta, but failed to meet the needs of students and educators. The main problem was that only 10 or 12 computers per 56K line could be connected to the Internet at any point in time, making downloading information painfully slow. With Wi-LAN wireless technology, linking 2,200 computers has not caused any problems and the schools get the bonus of increased speed. "I believe that this system is by far the world's largest wireless education system, in terms of both geographical area and number of sites," says Dr. Hatim Zaghloul, president and chief executive officer for Wi-LAN.

A Cost-Effective Solution

The Northern Lights School Division, located in northern Alberta, covers 5,714 square miles. The system comprises over 60 Wi-LAN advanced wireless Ethernet bridges at more than 40 sites. In total, 6,700 students from K-12, as well as 800 dedicated teachers, support staff and contractors are benefiting from the system. "The speed of the system we have now is so dramatically improved that there's just no comparison to the previous system," says Ron Young, computer coordinator at the Athabasca River School. On the new system, a 2 MB file can be transmitted from locations over 140 kilometers apart, in less than 45 seconds.

One of the deciding factors in using Wi-LAN's technology was cost. Using a traditional 56K system was projected to cost $1.2 million over five years -- more than double what the new Wi-LAN system costs. A major benefit to the Wi-LAN system is that, once installed, there are no other charges or monthly fees, since Wi-LAN's advanced wireless Ethernet bridges transmit over the license-exempt ISM band. Schools are able to return these savings back into their communications budget. Instead of having just one computer per school, most schools in the Northern Lights Division now have one computer for every five students.

"Wi-LAN's wireless network has been a valuable addition to our school division," says Krawchuk. "Wi-LAN's advanced wireless Ethernet bridges are a cost-effective solution to providing high-speed Internet access. The Northern Lights wide area network has proven that remote rural school districts can provide fast, reliable Internet access, putting students on par with their counterparts in major cities."

Contact Information

Calgary, Alberta
(800) 258-6876

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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