Shropshire primary school claims first all-802.11ac Wi-Fi network

Windmill Primary School in Telford is the site of the first 802.11ac Wi-Fi network in a UK primary school as it prepares for a major mobile device deployment

A Telford primary school has become the first educational establishment in the UK to deploy a full 802.11ac Wi-Fi network to support its mobile classroom strategy.

Windmill Primary plumped for the all-802.11ac solution – supplied by Xirrus via local channel partner TechLab – to prepare for a major deployment of mobile devices among 360 pupils aged from four to 11.

Head teacher Mark Gibbons explained that he was determined to make sure that Windmill Primary’s broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi network was up to scratch before upgrading the school’s endpoints, having seen other schools hit problems after doing it the other way around.

Windmill Primary plans to roll out iPad and Lenovo Yoga tablet devices, as well as in-classroom Sahara LED screens and wireless presentation system software WePresent. The combination allows staff to control what is shown on pupils’ devices.

A pilot classroom has already met with some success, with five and six-year-olds using laptops for online services, video streaming and learning activities via YouTube and Espresso. A school-wide deployment is now scheduled for the 2014/15 academic year, said Gibbons.

“Rather than jump right in with devices for every pupil, we decided to address the infrastructure,” he added. “We worked with the LEA to ensure that our broadband connectivity was as good as it could possibly be, and then with TechLab for the Wi-Fi.

“We have a large site and there were a number of places where we hadn’t used a lot of technology – some of that was a matter of increasing coverage, some of it was previous bad advice in terms of access point placement.”

Working with Telford & Wrekin’s ICT managed services arm, TechLab deployed XR-620 access points around the Windmill site, and will also provide monitoring and traffic management services using Xirrus Application Control and the Xirrus Management System. The firm already works with a number of other schools in the area.

“The key for us as a primary school without the ability to tap an onsite expert was to work with people who work with other schools nearby,” said Gibbons.

TechLab’s Lawrence Whiting said: “The success of this initiative came down to the unique design of Xirrus’s technology and its support for the 802.11ac standard. Xirrus outperforms competitive solutions by providing dual 11ac radios per access point, while network management is made easier with the Xirrus Management System.”

Xirrus claims the programmable features of its APs will provide a viable, future-proof solution, which will give the school the flexibility to operate radios in either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, depending on its changing client mix.

Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley said: “We have the technology to translate usual education processes into captivating classroom experiences, which both engage students and give staff the flexibility and ease to manage classes in efficient and effective ways.

“Our industry-first all-802.11ac network solution is designed to support institutions that are pushing the boundaries of learning and challenging traditional infrastructures that aren’t delivering best results.”

Gibbons added: “Straight away we’ve been able to see improvements in learning. The internet speed and performance all around the school are much better, which has reduced frustration for teachers and students trying to work, stream and communicate at once.”

Read more on Wireless networking