When Julie Wheeler took on the role as Head of LightHouse at King’s School, a leading independent boys’ primary school in Auckland, New Zealand, one of her first tasks was to review the school’s existing Information Communication Technologies (ICT) to determine what was working and what was not.
LightHouse is the name given to a purpose built 3 storey specialist facility housing the school’s library, ICT labs, science labs, music and art rooms. Wheeler’s responsibilities lie not only in directing the ICT needs of the school, but also in the development of the ICT thread through the curriculum, to the extent where technology is offered in all subjects to support learning.
Wheeler comments, "With regard to internet access our vision was simply for our students to be able to access our intranet immediately, at speed, regardless of which classroom or building they were in. It was evident that our existing wireless connection was not seamless, and that too much time and energy was being spent on resolving issues with our wireless network. If we wanted to lessen barriers to learning through the use of technology, we couldn’t continue to keep investing as much in a network strategy that was so reactive.” The pre-existing wireless network had been built up gradually over a period of five years. The consumer-grade product the school purchased was sufficient in the beginning, particularly as the product was designed with Mac environments in mind such as the one King’s School had, but as the school’s network grew, so did the number of standalone access-points (APs) they installed.
"What we had ended up with was twenty APs sprinkled around the school that gave wireless access to only some areas and
classrooms. The range just wasn’t wide enough with the product that we had”, reflects Wheeler. There was also the issue of the high signal drop-out rate that staff and students were experiencing.
Being in a residential area meant there were large numbers of wireless devices operating in the homes near the school. The RF interference from the neighbouring devices was weakening the signal strength of the school’s APs, and when the signal strength was not close to 100% the connection would simply drop out.
"So we had limited coverage, no network integration or centralised management, plus haphazard levels of connectivity. The staff and students were getting so frustrated that many teachers just stopped using the wireless network in their classes”, adds Wheeler. Motivated to improve the experience of the 100 staff members and 680 students using the Wi-Fi network, Wheeler met with Conrad Stewart of Isometric Solutions to devise a plan that would not only provide better coverage and connectivity, but also enable the school to shift from a "find and fix” network approach to a more proactive "predict and prevent” methodology.
It was clear that the goal was to provide seamless wireless connectivity across the school, but there were a number of unique challenges that King’s School would present to any wireless networking provider.
One of these challenges was the physical structure and layout of the school grounds and buildings. With a number of classrooms constructed with steel walls, as well as a Sportsdome located one hundred metres downhill outside of the school campus, the solution they would select had to meet their vision of speedy intranet access to all students in all subjects, regardless of which classroom they happened to be located in.
Conrad Stewart, Isometric Solutions’ Senior Systems Consultant, was tasked with finding a suitable solution that could not only address these needs, but also be flexible enough to allow for any future expansions to the school’s network.
During Stewart’s research, his interest was raised by the technical features of the Ruckus Wireless portfolio. In particular, he was impressed with the availability of smart meshing networking which meant APs could be deployed in locations that were without Ethernet. Combined with the BeamFlex smart antenna, which dynamically adjusts the signal to the best performing path, it appeared that a Ruckus solution would be able to provide complete coverage across the school whilst reducing signal drop-outs due to RF interference.
Furthermore, a look at the pricing indicated that a Ruckus system was going to cost considerably less than the other vendor who came close on a technical standpoint. Stewart promptly got in touch with Ruckus Wireless through their New Zealand distributor, Connector Systems, and arranged for an engineer to assist with testing it.
Through a thorough site survey, the Ruckus representative was able to deliver a plan that identified exactly where each AP would need to be. "You cannot underestimate the value of a site survey when you’re considering a wireless network”, advises Stewart.
"Not only did we know at that moment where each AP would be, but we also discovered that the total number of access-points we’d need to provide complete Wi-Fi coverage was going to decrease. For us this would mean a reduction in cost-to-equip and time-to-manage”.
The Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 7462 was tested in classrooms containing the school’s Computers On Wheels (mobile trolleys carrying laptops). "The system demonstrated an immediate increase in speed, security and reliability”, confirms Stewart. "For the first time, we were able to have twenty students simultaneously logging on through the one AP and the product was able to cope with it”. With the technical capabilities of the Ruckus system deemed successful, it was time to look at the solution from a more commercial perspective.
The two products recommended to the school were the Ruckus ZoneFlex 7942 and ZoneFlex 7962 models. As the school has future plans to provide VoIP and other services over the WLAN, the ZoneFlex 7962 was decided on due to the inclusion of concurrent dual-band support. Selecting the ZoneFlex 7962 provided King’s School with the assurance that their investment would provide even greater returns in the future.
Since the Ruckus solution has been rolled out, Isometric Solutions have found there’s been a vast reduction in time needed to manage the wireless network, meaning that "predict and plan” projects such as wireless VoIP and building a guest wireless network can now receive attention.
Staff and students are enjoying the freedom and flexibility of being able to access the intranet from anywhere within the school, from a laptop or desktop. Wheeler reflects, "King’s School has always seen technology as a vehicle to support learning. Our ICT technician’s main job, along with Isometric Solutions, is to ensure that the barriers to accessing the internet are lessened, and Ruckus Wireless has enabled us to do that.”
Located in the Auckland suburb of Remuera in New Zealand, King’s School is a leading independent day primary school for boys. Established in 1922 the school caters for 680 students and a staff count in excess of 100. Facilities include the LightHouse building which houses the library, ICT labs, science labs, music and art rooms over 3 storeys, an Aquadome, Sportsdome and classrooms contained within the King’s School campus.
- Ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage throughout the entire campus
- Mitigate radio frequency (RF) interference
- Consistent performance at every location
- High user density per AP Concurrent dual-band support
- Support for a predominantly Mac environment of desktops, laptops and handheld devices
- Fifteen ZoneFlex 7962 Dual Band 802.11a,b,g,n Access Points
- Four ZoneFlex 7942 802.11b,g,n Access Points
- One ZoneDirector 1025 WLAN controller
- Complete Wi-Fi coverage across the school
- Adaptable Wi-Fi signals allow reliable coverage
- Seamless roaming between indoor and outdoor locations on campus
- Single point of management for entire WLAN