A school wireless installation from start to finish

A school wireless installation from start to finish

Wireless infrastructures are becoming ever more vital to schools of any size. When wireless doesn’t function as it’s supposed to it can become a major source of frustration for staff and students. As a leading provider of school wireless networks we have shared the details of a wireless installation from start to finish at one of our schools, so you can see how we ensure a successful outcome.

Preparation

The school in question has an IT team provided by CSE Managed Services, so as part of our service we undertook all the research and due diligence to ensure we got the best solution for the school.

Example of a wireless map

The first step was to analyse a map of the site through our wireless mapping software. This allows us to have an idea of how many Access Points are required to cover the site, it provides us with a heat map and a ballpark approximation of cost. Once the school accepted this initial estimate we set about getting the information we needed to get a concrete cost.

There are so many unknowns in large-scale wireless installations, which is why it is so important to select a provider with a proven track record. With this in mind we used our experience to find out all the unknowns and narrow down the requirement with a site visit.

We now had our site map with the proposed access points, so our next job was to see if the plan made sense in the real world.

As a side note, it’s amazing how many people ask us for a ‘heat map’ with the assumption that because a computer program says the wireless coverage will be good then it definitely will be. If a company gives you a heat map and does not rationalise it on site with an experienced wireless engineer, then they are not providing you with the service you deserve.

A heat map should always be analysed. A computer, or the person running the computer, cannot see the size of the walls (maps hardly ever show that), the scale of a room, or the surrounding areas (metal works etc.). A computer can never evaluate which spots you do most of the teaching and learning in your classroom, or know how often, or adapt to the next-doors classroom having a high wireless requirement when yours does also.

An engineer with lots of experience in wireless installations will be able to adapt the map to improve the design, and subsequently the performance of the system by visiting your school and taking all this information into account. They will usually be able to reduce the AP count too; as we did in this instance from 40 to 36 (we once took a school from a heat map total of 124 to a real world total of 85!).

In our example, the school is made up of two buildings; one old Victorian building with metre thick walls, the other a new build classroom block with modern stud walls (and metalwork!). It does not take a genius to work out that wireless will behave completely differently in these two buildings.

A site visit is always vital in tying down the exact number of APs required, but that is still not the end of the quotation process. A definite quote cannot yet be created as there are still too many unknowns. In this case, our site visit had to answer all the questions below as they will also have an impact in the project cost:

1) Does cabling exist where we need to place the Access Points?
Obviously, an Access Point is wired back to the most appropriate switch. If there is no cabling where we need to place an AP we need to cost for putting cabling to this place. If there is a nearby point that is not in use, we can often re-route it, which saves cost. In this example, the school was a relative new build/re-furb so all but two of the 36 AP locations were within a reasonable distance of a cable port. On other buildings, you may also be lucky in that a previous installation gives you ports to play with. The two ports here were taken from nearby un-used ports and CSE’s cabling team re-routed them to the appropriate rooms.

2) Are there enough switch ports?
Unfortunately, in these days of austerity, 100% flood wiring is often a thing of the past and there are often many more ports in a school building than switch ports to service them. Our next job was to take the port number of each potential wireless port, check whether it was patched in, and if not, find a port for it, making sure of course that the port was a PoE+ port to allow for powering the AP. In our example there were enough ports to service the wireless infrastructure. If there are not, then we would have sourced an appropriate PoE+ switch for the school and installed and configured this too.

3) Is there an existing wireless system?
This is important, as quite often the school wishes for continuity of wireless service, especially if a WPA2 pre-shared key is used. Copying this setup from the old service means that end user will just attach to the new network, as it believes it to be the same system as the old one. In our solution, there was a small legacy wireless system secured via WPA2, which we copied so existing users could carry on as previously, minimising disruption.

4) What is the best wireless setup?
The next consideration for the system was the setup. This particular school wished to have a straight forward WPA2 secured system with guest access. This means that all school owned devices were deployed the key to attach to the network and they seamlessly joined the network as they saw it. In addition, the school wished to have a guest management system that allowed guests secure access to their wireless service and filtered internet.

The above aspects are important in determining what kind of Access Point is best suited. As always, there is a plethora of choices, AC Wave 1, AC Wave 2, indoor, outdoor, dual and single radios. It all depends on what the school wishes to do. Again, one size does not fit all and I touch back on my point about companies who generically accept a heat map as the main source of their installation knowledge. Wireless is wireless yes, but the security and bandwidth requirements of a system in a school are completely different to those required in a football stadium, or a shopping centre, or a hotel.

Another important factor in deciding the setup is the devices that the school owns. On sale now generally are AC Wave 1 and AC Wave 2 access points. If the end users are low-level users and have no devices that support AC Wave 2, and have no plans to, then there is mileage in supplying a Wave 1 AP solution for a cost advantage. If more users and use is required, a Wave 2 solution is generally necessary.

5) What 3rd party systems are there?
We also spend a lot of time looking at other systems that exist at a school when planning a wireless deployment. Particularly important is the filtering service. There is nothing more frustrating that connecting to a wireless service that then does not work, so it is important that we look at the proxy, filtering and certificate setup inside a school to ensure that devices can use the internet if they connect to the wireless. It is also important that this use is easy, and we are not requiring end users to configure manual proxy servers as they attach.

This all sounds like a lot of preparation, and I suppose it is, but you get the best results when you are best prepared. Armed with all this information, our next step is to turn it into a concrete proposal with a fixed price for the school.

Our first task here is to choose the most suitable system. We talk to the school the advantages and disadvantages of various wireless systems, it’s too much to go into in this post, but again it is vital to work with a company with experience and relevant references from successful installations. Making the right choice really does count; a lack of experience could mean you end up with an enterprise wireless systems that does not meet your requirements or live up to your expectations.

That said, CSE generally supplies the HP/Aruba Instant AP solution due to its effectiveness, simple management and controller-less setup. Even in this range, there are a multitude of Access Points to choose from. As the school we were installing in anticipated a low level of wireless use, we proposed the IAP-205, a 2:2:2 Wave 1 Access Point which would more than match their requirements.

However, it was the school’s lucky day as just as we were ordering the kit, HP’s pricing changed for that month and unbelievably we were able to provide the school with Wave 2 Access Points for the same price as Wave 1!

At this stage, the preparation for the installation is finally over and the school were provided with a concrete quote, which included:

  • 36 wireless access points
  • 2 spare AP’s (it is often cheaper to purchase 2no spare AP’s than purchase the warranty for the 36, and this is what this school chose to do)
  • Cabling to re-route 2no cable runs
  • Mounting 36 AP’s
  • Wireless System installation, configuration and testing
  • System Documentation and Training
  • Project Management
Installation

The next stage of the project was the installation which began with the cabling. The two points that were being seconded for two new APs were moved from their current positions and placed into the correct position. All APs were then mounted on the walls or ceilings, and patched with new cables.

This is a very important part of the installation. All information about the APs must be gathered at this stage. There is nothing worse than putting up 50 APs, configuring them in the console and then not knowing where each one is. Even the best wireless systems will not tell you where you have mounted your Access Points! To combat this, our cabling team create an online spreadsheet with the following information:

  • Access Point location
  • Room Number (if applicable)
  • Serial Number
  • Mac Address
  • Cable port number
  • Switch patched in to
  • Switch port number
  • Notes

This way, whenever we first contact the AP through the management software, we always know which AP we are talking to. In addition, as we know where every AP is and can visually recognise it in the software, we can easily switch the wireless on and off in certain areas if we wish.

Using this information, next in were our wireless engineers, who then configured the Aruba Instant System to deploy a wireless system to the school. This in essence is the easy bit, as all the difficult work has been undertaken earlier. The only thing left to do is to adopt the APs onto the system and deploy with Wi-Fi SSID and guest network around the school. Once this has been done, the wireless is visible to those in the school and accessible to those who have been approved for its use.

The Aruba wireless solution is actually very simple to maintain once implemented so training requirements are quite low. However, CSE provided full training and knowledge transfer so the system is manageable in-house once implemented. This benefits end users due to the provision of crib sheets to enable them to manage their own devices, as well as the ICT team who will be managing the system as a whole. In addition, training is always provided to nominated members of the reception staff though, so they can on-board guests on to the system as they arrive at the school.

Post installation

Post a wireless installation from CSE, a school is given documentation outlining all the above processes. A map is provided of where the APs have been located and the spreadsheet discussed earlier is left with the local ICT team, meaning that for configuration management purposes, all requirements are met.

Feel free to discuss with us any questions or comments you have about wireless in education, or if you would like an upgrade yourself, please contact us on sales@cse-net.co.uk or 01998 886688.

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