Internal Network Options
After you have planned your broadband upgrade, the next task is ensuring all your schools have robust internal networks and Wi-Fi coverage. It can be a daunting task to purchase, implement, and maintain a wireless network. However, by taking some time to thoroughly plan your upgrade and make smart purchasing decisions, you can perform an effective upgrade on a reasonable budget.
Top Tips When Planning an Upgrade
- Determine whether you want to manage the network internally or outsource this in the form of a managed service. Recently, Managed Wi-Fi has become a more prevalent service; this can be a good option for districts lacking a tech staff. Be sure to understand the different types of vendors that could provide the products and services you are seeking.
- A strong wired network is the foundation of a strong wireless network. Eliminate potential bottlenecks on switches, routers, and structured cabling by upgrading them first or alongside wireless access points. Installing the latest, multi-gigabit access points is pointless if you only have CAT5 cabling and 100Mbps switches.
- A site survey should be done! There is a lot of debate about the correct number of APs per classroom. Many 1:1 districts have installed less than one AP per classroom in a saw tooth pattern and have achieved perfectly acceptable performance. Other districts swear that one AP per classroom is necessary to handle their constantly growing bandwidth demands. Ultimately, it all comes down to a good site survey. Without the site survey, which takes all of the variables into consideration (building construction, number of user devices, type of user traffic, interference levels, 802.11n versus 802.11ac, etc.), it is difficult to make a blanket statement about how many APs every district in the country needs. By skipping a site survey, you risk buying more than you need and spending more time and money to fix coverage problems after the upgrade is completed.
- 802.11ac Wave 1 or Wave 2? When it comes to deciding between these two variations of 802.11ac, it is important to think about devices on your network and what the device refresh cycle is. If you do not plan on upgrading to devices that will be able to take advantage of Wave 2 features, it may not be worth the extra cost.
- Physical or cloud-based wireless controller? Each option has its advantages and disadvantages and many times it comes down to the needs of the district and the preference of the network administrator. For example, if you choose a cloud-based controller, you must has sufficient bandwidth and uptime on your category 1 Internet and WAN connections. Similarly, you should consider what features or functionality you gain by installing a physical controller and if it is worth the time investment for installation and management.
- Make sure you understand the licensing models of new equipment. With adoption of cloud-managed network equipment becoming increasingly common, it is important to know the associated costs with this architecture. This type of equipment usually requires an active license in order to communicate with the cloud and remain functional. Some vendors charge a recurring fee for this license while others charge a one-time cost. Equipment like switches and firewalls may not have required a license in the past, so you may not be used to budgeting for the extra expense.
- Ensure your switches can fully power your AP's. While many AP models can still function on standard power over ethernet (POE), newer models may require POE+.
- Carefully evaluate the need for maintenance.When purchasing new equipment, most OEM's have the option to purchase technical support plans (an example being Smart Net for Cisco equipment). Since this is an additional cost that can add up quickly, it is important to evaluate whether you need maintenance and support on all equipment.