Educators Getting Smart About WLAN Solutions

Education customers looking to improve classroom efficiency and productivity are increasingly turning to WLAN solutions, solution providers said.

August 5, 2005

3 Min Read
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Education customers looking to improve classroom efficiency and productivity are increasingly turning to WLAN solutions, solution providers said.

As WLAN equipment prices drop and vendors roll out features to help combat security concerns, both school districts and universities are giving the green light to wireless deployments, said Tim Gower, lead analyst at Datamonitor, identifying education as one of the top five vertical markets for wireless technology. WLAN sales in the North American education market are poised to hit $200 million by 2008, about double last year’s sales, according to the research firm. Activity between the United States and Canada is evenly split, Gower said.

For solution providers with wireless experience, opportunities in the education market are plentiful and growing quickly. “We’re seeing quite a lot of wireless in the schools,” said Doug Bowlds, vice president of AAC Associates, a solution provider in Vienna, Va. One customer, the Fairfax County public school system in Virginia, has pushed out wireless technology to more than 200 schools, he said. Some school districts are experimenting with wireless-enabled PDAs to dole out homework assignments to students, he said. In addition, some schools aim to improve communications by rolling out WLANs in concert with VoIP systems, giving staff members wireless phone access over the Wi-Fi network.

“If they send an engineer out to do work at the middle school, his phone number follows him as he goes from school to school,” Bowlds said. Wireless networks integrated with VoIP systems are also being used to tackle safety concerns, said Steven Madick, director of engineering at Nexus Integration Services, a solution provider in Valencia, Calif., which has enabled several entire schools with WLANs.

“When teachers are out with the kids at the baseball field behind the school, they can launch a 911 call if there’s an emergency,” Madick said.In other cases, schools are tapping WLANs to help them get more efficient use of teachers and classroom facilities, Gower said.“It’s about the freeing up of classroom space. In the early ’90s, schools were losing two or three classrooms just to build computer rooms,” Gower said. With wireless, the computer room can be wherever the kids are, he said.For colleges and universities, wireless technology is usually more about the cachet of providing cutting-edge technology to attract new students, Gower said.

Higher education customers also can tackle their own network performance and security concerns by providing separate WLAN access to students, Madick said. “It keeps [students] from hammering the schools’ own internal networks.”

For both segments of the market, wireless networks can bypass the problems that arise as schools try to retrofit old buildings with up-to-date wiring. “It can be complicated to set up wiring in the buildings. Wireless removes some of those pitfalls,” Gower said.

Particularly in the United States, the WLAN education market is benefiting from E-Rate, a national fund dedicated to bringing technology into schools.

Improved security features also have helped remove the barriers that held schools and universities back from deploying WLANs in the past, Gower said. Still, the school environment, particularly at the college and university level, can be a big target for wireless security concerns.“There are going to be students who try to hack in, so the security threat is high,” Gower said.

Cisco Systems, the top worldwide wireless vendor, is also one of the top suppliers of equipment to the education market, Gower said. 3Com, Proxim—which was recently acquired by Terabeam Wireless (see story on page 28)—and Symbol Technologies round out the “Big Four,” he said.“Cisco and Symbol have strength in their technology and strong channel relationships,” Gower said.

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