Education Wild for Wi-Fi6
Senior Director, Americas
Thought Leadership, Education, Public Sector, Core Networks, Security
Today, the need for higher density, higher throughput and higher capacity are critical to wireless networks. These are the things that everyone wants from their wireless network—especially schools. These are the promises of Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 (known in more technical terms as 802.11ax) is the latest emerging wireless standard, offering several new improvements to make it the highest performing set of wireless protocols to date. Not only will Wi-Fi 6 boost overall performance on paper, but it is specifically designed to perform efficiently in real-world scenarios that Wi-Fi currently struggles in, such as when 25 students all hop on the classroom Wi-Fi at the same time. This allows end users to experience always-on connectivity without bottlenecks or performance degradation.
While every industry can benefit from the promises of Wi-Fi 6, one in particular is ready to benefit from this change: education. While most of us remember those school days spent searching through binders of papers, sharpening pencils in the middle of a test, and carrying heavy books from class to class, classrooms of today are transforming into central hubs of technology innovation and experimentation around the world. This shift has led to the need for secure and persistent Wi-Fi.
So what challenges will Wi-Fi 6 help the schools of tomorrow solve?
With an expected 50% increase in networked devices per person by 2020, equivalent to about 3.6 connected devices per person, schools are in for more of a bandwidth challenge than most. Additionally, more schools are deploying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to increase school safety, improve operations and save costs. Together, this changes the requirements for many school networks. Traditionally, schools would add more access points to high density areas to try and combat reliability issues, but this has been found to cause congestion with overlapping signals. Plus, just having connections in classrooms is no longer enough; high density access points will be required everywhere on school grounds in order to accommodate students roaming with several mobile devices and wireless IoT devices.
Who are the first people to generally test out new technologies? Students. As a result, school networks are the first to handle hundreds of new devices at the same time. Not only are Wi-Fi 6-supported mobile devices already hitting the network, but the traffic per smartphone is expected to grow 10x by 2022. And if that isn’t enough, bandwidth-intensive video is expected to grow from 3% of all IP traffic in 2017 to 22% in 2022, already challenging networks with high throughput demands. To top it all off, 8K streaming is just on the horizon (and we know students will pick the highest streaming video quality they can!).
In the classroom, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), collaboration applications and other bandwidth-intensive technologies are already starting to provide a more immersive learning experience. With teachers already using video and other wireless technologies for instruction, having higher throughput will ensure learning goes on uninterrupted and teachers have more freedom to bring new capabilities into the classroom.
All this change will come faster than you think. For Jaymon Lefebvre, Director of IT Services at Wild Rose School Division (WRSD), the rapid increase in student and IoT devices poses unique networking obstacles for the district to overcome. As a rural school district in Alberta, Canada, WRSD has many students who don’t have Wi-Fi access at home. Therefore, WRSD is not only accommodating devices for learning, but also students’ personal devices, which they use to download content and homework while at school so they can continue using their devices at home.
Additionally, learning no longer just takes place in the classroom. At any given time, students are learning wherever they go, using high-bandwidth applications in the hallways and outside. Teachers are starting to use tiny, single-board computers more regularly, like Raspberry Pis and VR headsets for instruction. With up to 30 students per classroom, each with several devices, Lefebvre’s team wants to make sure there are no limitations to new and creative learning techniques.
The IT team has started deploying Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs to continue supporting the current technologies used by students and staff, while still getting classrooms ready to support new technologies. The Wi-Fi 6 APs not only provide higher density and throughput to support students and staff, but also enable the team to support over 15,000 wireless devices and focus on providing better experiences for the school division.
In the face of a new digital era, reliable connections allow students at WRSD to have the same learning experience as kids anywhere in the world, opening up new opportunities that were not possible before.