Monday, July 15, 2013

A Wireless Infrastructure for a 1:1 Netbook Program

What Can A $7,000 Donation Buy You?

Formula for Success: BYOD + Robust WiFi Infrastructure

On our campus today I can walk from one corner of the school property to the other with my laptop, iPad, iPhone, or other device and remain on our WiFi network, which gives me access to the greater Internet. When I move out of range of one access point (AP), I move into range of another AP seamlessly, just like you do with cellular phones. Our initial investment to cover our main school building was $7400, and we slowly built it up over the past couple of years to the point we're at today with coverage in a total of 4 buildings and the outdoor space in-between. Our Internet bandwidth today is 5 MBPS, but we're negotiating for 10. The main Internet "pipe" comes to our school campus via fiber optic cable. This Internet connection currently serves about 200 students in grades 5-8 and 25 teachers and staff wirelessly, all at the same time.

Our initial purchase:

  • 7 Ruckus ZoneFlex Access Points ($700 each, plus $120 for the accompanying software with a 3-year upgrade path). Five APs serve our main education building, and the other two were used for two of our other 3 buildings. We've since purchased 5 more for seamless coverage across our full campus.
  • ZoneDirector 1000 which supports up to 12 Zoneflex access points ($1400, plus $240 for the accompanying software with a 3-year upgrade path). The ZoneDirector 1100 is apparently the newer model available at the time of this posting.
  • Our total initial investment was about $7400 for a school with 2 floors, shaped like an "H", covering 10 classrooms upstairs with basically a mirror of the same downstairs. The APs seem to cover us fine both upstairs and downstairs.
  • Since then, we added another 5 x $700 APs for $3500, and a total WiFi infrastructure cost of $11,500 including the software cost on the 5 added APs.
Others have raved about Aerohive for WiFi. We looked at both and went with Ruckus. You may want to compare and contrast the two, as well as the many other options that exist today.

Our Initial Outlay for Netbooks

At around the same time we put in our wireless infrastructure, we bought 20 ASUS Netbooks at about $379 each to give our teaching staff an opportunity to experience netbook computing first-hand. After that, we purchased a few other devices including a Nook, a Kindle Fire, an Asus Transformer, and an iPad third edition. Selected staff members have been piloting and testing these devices to help us explore our options for the future. Since then, we've operated for over 2 years with the 5-8 grade students bringing their own devices (BYOD) to school. The initial purchase of Asus netbooks led us to strongly suggest this as our preferred laptop beginning in fifth grade because of the lower expense. In addition, the Windows 7 operating system allows us to do everything we want and need to do with a student computer. Beginning in 2013-2014 we will also suggest Windows 8 as an option.


We've received very little pushback to our requirement that students bring their own device while we supply the WiFi. One parent complained about the cost. Another said they would have liked more of a parent orientation before the netbook program was rolled out. Other than that, most of our feedback has been very positive. Parents like the concept of 1:1 computing, bringing their own devices, and having WiFi available 24/7 on campus. They are used to having WiFi at home, at work, and elsewhere, and have come to almost expect WiFi to be ubiquitous throughout their lives, including at school where their children receive a top-notch education. Our parents seem to expect that 1:1 wireless computing is just part of a 21st Century Christian education. We speak of it that way and they seem to agree. Many parents have expressed their amazement at how Dropbox, Gmail, Rosetta Stone, and collaborative word processing projects just work as part of a student's work flow throughout the school week.

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