Parents everywhere rejoice!
After months of home schooling, our schools have re-opened again to all UK pupils. There’s no doubt, it will come as a welcome relief, with many of us having a newfound appreciation for the invaluable jobs our teachers do.
Last year, a startling report in AA stated that approximately 94% of students, of all age ranges, were left to be home schooled by parents juggling the responsibilities of their own day jobs – all far from in a position to dedicate the time required to deliver a thorough education. That role of a teacher was taken to a whole new level of complexity during 2020 and again over the last few months as they organised and put on classes for two sets of pupils – those still on-site with parents that are key workers or are vulnerable themselves and those that were at home.
But while that burden will be eased by the news of all pupils returning to the classroom, the sector still remains immensely vulnerable at a critical time in our country’s battle to get on top of COVID-19.
The biggest factor – and arguably most common theme – behind why the sector has been so unprotected and disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic is its technology infrastructure.
This, naturally, varies depending on the size of the school. While independent schools were able to pivot much more effectively with the fees they receive, state schools were not able to board the same boat and left to muddle through underfunded and lacking in the necessary technology and training to deliver remote teaching.
Here at Performance Networks, we recently worked with Solihull Sixth Form College to address their own frustrating WiFi issues, and after speaking to them as well as a number of other schools across the UK, here are our five top tips that every school and academy will need to be aware of when it comes to ensuring they’re getting the most out of their connectivity…
1: Old WiFi
Typically, there are three things that schools need to be steering clear of.
WiFi that only works on 2.4GHz band – we still see this, although there is much less of this nowadays. As this band has only three available non-overlapping channels, you want to steer clear of this being your only band.
WiFi that’s SCA(Single Channel Architecture) – some companies, like Old Meru, used to use this and, speaking factly, parts of it work really well, especially when it comes to roaming. But in today’s high-density environments, it’s going to struggle.
Manufacturers are all now moving away from this architecture.
WiFi that 802.11,a,b,g,n – also now known as WiFi 1,2,3,4. There are so many enhancements since these standards & WiFi6 or 802.11ax is amazing – so just upgrade already!
2: Not enough WiFi
The most regular issue is a school having too few Access Points(APs) – meaning you have coverage gaps.
Even if you have full coverage but your APs are transmitting on full power, it can result in distanced devices slowing things down or not being heard by the APs they are trying to connect back to.
On the face of it, the signal can look ok to you and your device, but if you’re experiencing issues and a lack of APs is not the problem, the likelihood is your device cannot be heard by the AP as you don’t have the same Transmit power.
Too few APs also means you may see general capacity issues.
3: Too much WiFi
They say you can’t have too much of something good, but that’s certainly not the case when it comes to WiFi.
By having too many Access Points, it can cause them to have to share Airtime.
This means slower WiFi for all APs sharing the same or overlapping channels and this can be as bad or worse than not enough Access Points.
A good initial design and configuration can overcome this issue.
Access Points are designed to be mounted in a certain way as well as at a specific height range. Usually, these are horizontally and not above four metres in height for most Omni-directional APs.
So, if they happen to be mounted incorrectly, they may not cover where you think they should!
When it comes to schools and academies, try not to mount in corridors, especially on walls that have at least two sides. This will result in neither classroom receiving the best WiFi.
Education facilities should be aiming to get devices onto the 5GHz band. However, one thing to note is that it has a shorter wavelength than the other 2.4GHz band and doesn’t go through walls as well.
This can lead to devices choosing the 2.4GHz band over the 5 and not getting access to the best connection point. Something else to note is that long corridors can mean all the APs can see each other so to speak, even if it is indirectly.
Having APs placed like this will Increase interference and also cause the controllers at times to turn the power down where you do not want it to. The controller does not know your physical set-up, only what APs are near each other.
Last, but definitely not least, how a school’s WiFi is configured could potentially provide another major issue.
Often, people assume they are increasing speed only to be doing the opposite. One example is channel width – 80MHz + widths are never going to work in the real world in 99.9% of cases… unless you are a scientist working in Antarctica in a Faraday cage!
Power settings are another issue. Two scenarios usually crop up with this. Either a) it is left to the controller to decide what’s best or b) it is left to someone without the correct tools or knowledge to measure it properly.
Grouping some APs and giving the controller specific parameters always works best in our experience. But you do need specific tools and knowledge to get this right.
You might also require QoS (Quality of Service) setting up correctly, so certain APPs get priority over others. Certainly given that everyone is working via applications like Microsoft Teams.
WiFi is a complex tool, but handled and implemented correctly within our schools and academies will take off any additional pressures that teachers are going to be feeling when pupils return in March.
What the future holds with COVID-19 is still unclear, but by investing in a proper WiFi service, the education sector will be better equipped to offer a thorough and safe learning experience – even if we find ourselves in a position where homeschooling returns again in some capacity for the third time.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, and you want to speak to one of our experts about your school getting connected securely during a demanding time, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0115 822 1212 or 0207 148 1780.