Guest Post: Futureproofing schools with Wi-Fi 6

By Lisa Richardson

Wireless advancements have enabled businesses and consumers to become increasingly connected and by 2022, it’s forecasted more than half of global IP traffic will be Wi-Fi. This poses a unique challenge for IT professionals as they strive to adapt to the unprecedented complexity of IT environments and the connecting of billions of devices.

This is especially pronounced in device-dense school environments. It’s what puzzled Jaymon Lefebvre, Director of IT Services at Alberta’s Wild Rose School Division (WRSD), as he sought a solution to expand the Division’s network, futureproof the environment, and empower students and teachers to experiment with new technologies in the classroom.

Evolving role of technology

Students are no longer passively using the internet at school. They’re viewing videos, making recordings, using VR headsets, creating with Raspberry Pis, and engaging with new applications to help them learn, using anywhere from two to three devices a day.

Additionally, the remote nature of WRSD means many students don’t have access to the internet at home – relying on the school network to download content for offline use, update their devices, and play games.

This additional bandwidth consumption can easily overpower the network if the right infrastructure isn’t in place. With an anticipated 30 per cent increase in IoT devices over the next few years, Lefebvre worked with Cisco as part of a global pilot to start deploying Wi-Fi 6, the new standard for Wi-Fi networks, compatible APs to prepare for this growth of student and IoT devices.

Bringing IT to the cloud

Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) will enable the IT team to support current technologies used by students and staff, while also making classrooms compatible with future technologies. Wi-Fi 6 provides a consistent, dependable network connection for a seamless experience, and also increases capacity – transmitting more data to more clients than previous Wi-Fi standards.

Lefebvre also deployed multigigabit Meraki aggregation switches to backhaul the high-bandwidth traffic coming from the Wi-Fi 6 APs, developing a robust network backbone that’s crucial in supporting situations where higher throughput and density are required.

Most important for WRSD’s IT team was the newfound ability to easily manage the network across distributed sites (key for the rural school division) through the cloud-managed Cisco Meraki dashboard, configuring and managing the network from anywhere through a web browser. This dramatically simplified day-to-day network maintenance and troubleshooting, reducing travel time and resolving issues across the network more quickly.

WRSD plans to install more than 380 Meraki MR access points (APs), 70 MS switches, and 200 MV smart cameras throughout the 20,000 square kilometer school division over the next few years, consolidating the number of systems IT needs to manage into one and letting the team focus on what’s most important: delivering services for students.

Networks are doing much more than serving business applications at WRSD, they’re providing a connected community for its students and staff. With Wi-Fi 6 and the growth of new classroom technologies, Lefebvre and his team have started building the classrooms of the future, today.

Lisa Richardson is the Vice President of Solutions Sales at Cisco Canada.

 

 

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