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Campus Wi-Fi is enabling access to educational resources like never before.

Tags: Aruba NetworksComba Telecom (www.comba-telecom.com/)DrayTek (www.draytek.com)Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company Smart learningWiFi
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Free to Air
By  David Ndichu Published  February 28, 2016

Campus-wide wireless access, enabled by advances in enterprise Wi-Fi, improved education outcomes by enhancing collaboration and learning.

Jacob Chacko, business lead, SMB & Commercial, Middle East & Turkey at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, points out that students who leverage the Internet and mobile technologies for digital learning are more proficient than those who do not. “Today’s students learn about the world and their social life on mobile devices. Bringing that experience to school by allowing them to easily access content and learning tools on a similar mobile device just makes sense,” Chacko says.

For schools, that means an opportunity to save a significant amount of money—especially important in times where institutions are facing budget cuts, are looking for ways to cut costs. By turning to digital content stored in a cloud service, Chacko observes, school districts are able to save up to $1,000 per student.

“As the push to modernize schools to improve learning continues, it’s important to consider the three audiences within education: students demand digital learning tools on mobile; teachers want in-classroom technology to be automated; and administrators demand budget conscious solutions,” Chacko says.

Marie Ma, director of Product Marketing at relative newcomer Comba Telecom, notes that the education system has seen some ground-breaking changes since the digital revolution came knocking. The proliferation of the Internet, social media channels and supporting tech has ‘rewired’ the way in which educators teach and students learn. E-learning systems, mobile devices and online information resources have become the norm, she observes, adding that a reliable Wi-Fi infrastructure is essential to adapting to these changes and harnessing their potential.

Ma says some of the more important requirements from the Wi-Fi infrastructure in a contemporary educational institution include high throughput to support contemporary high usage applications such as the streaming of videos, support of high-density deployment and usage fairness control (that is, special software features to enable the fair use of a shared wireless resource), support of various kinds of service provisioning policies based on bandwidth and time.

Joseph Tsai, senior regional manager, MEA for network vendor DrayTek, says many institutions are looking to extend mobile device access via Wi-Fi to all areas of the school including areas such as sports fields. “With the increasing usage of tablets, smart phones and laptops as an aid to learning, the modern school envisages a future where every student may need controlled online access throughout the campus and most are keen to implement a solution that allows for constant growth,” says Tsai.

The fundamentals for reliable Wi-Fi requirement in the modern education field according to Tsai include SSID/VLAN Wireless LAN (WLAN) grouping to expand wireless groups and to extend its connection to overcome the physical distance or building blocks. These institutions will also require secure Internet network, Web Content Filtering, CSM/Firewall to protect the school’s Internet network and to prevent students from any unexpected Internet abuses or attacks, Tsai notes.

Other considerations should include built-in authentication server and log-in page control, required to well different WLAN group users’ internet access and activities. The IT office needs to have full authority to access, monitor and manage the network. IT should ideally provide a log-in page for any entrants to well manage their internet access/usages based on safe-and-sound Secured Wi-Fi Network.

Marwan BinShakar - vice president, Mobile Access Network & Operations for du on the other hand says the primary requirement of any modern educational institution that wants to create a ‘smart’ educational environment is high speed Wi-Fi with very low latency.

For operators to gain trust and prove they have built a Wi-Fi network able to support the modern educational environment, a Wi-Fi network now has to support features such as security, data plans and a differentiated quality of service, BinShakar says.

Additionally, BinShakar continues, operators have to consider the technological challenges presented by BYOD, and enhance the customer experience by reviewing internet capacity, and providing an all in one service that is cost effective in order to gain customer trust. “At du, we engineer our Wi-Fi services based on an end-to-end design and optimization approach to provide seamless user experience regardless of the interference, congestion, and network topology,” he adds.

There are network issues that education institutions have to grapple with as they introduce e-learning, collaborative learning and thousands of student and faculty mobile devices into the learning environment.

“The Wi-Fi network needs to be architected in such a way that it capably supports cloud-based solutions, since all user data will invariably have to be stored on the cloud. The solution must also be able to support different types of user devices – be they PCs, smartphones or tablets. And last, but definitely not the least, the solution must allow for high security on user access and user data management,” says Comba’s Ma.

For students, access to digital learning tools must be fast and easy, says Chacko. The network needs to be up and running while reliability is critical, he adds. “While students are taking an exam or trying to submit their essay, the technology can’t get in the way. The Wi-Fi needs to be enterprise-grade and stable.”

Teachers are also an important piece of the puzzle. While students are interacting with their mobile devices, teachers need to control the classroom. They can use these tools to enable digital roll calling or messaging with students or being able to see what the students are doing in the classroom during an exam. All of these technologies need to be automated so that teachers don’t have to spend time troubleshooting technology; they can instead focus on their students, Chacko adds.

“Administrators are the third segment of the GenMobile audience that exists in the education vertical. They need to manage capital and operational expense carefully so that budgetary restrictions don’t get in the way of improved learning. So cost cutting and reliability is key for them,” Chacko of Aruba says.

The educational sector is an increasingly segment for vendors as institutions rush to adapt to the new demands for the smart campus.

Comba Telecom sees the education segment as a market laden with major potential globally, Ma says. “Our Wi-Fi total solutions have seen a significant amount of successful deployments in China’s higher education facilities – these solutions have successfully provided users throughout the campus with a high speed, high quality wireless network,” she adds.

Comba’s Wi-Fi solutions, Ma says, are able to support high density and high capacity usage. “We provides institutions with various types of Wi-Fi equipment that enable cost-effective, efficient and speedy rollouts. We are able to integrate in-building Distribute Antenna Systems (DAS) into these deployments, which further save on the cost and time expended on deployment. We also offer a centralised management system for all the equipment within the network,” she adds.

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