All Systems Go: The Adoption of Two Cutting-Edge Technologies Transforms a Fickle Wireless Network into a Fast, Efficient Engine of Learning

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RAYTOWN C-2 SCHOOL DISTRICT, located southeast of Kansas City, MO, had never experienced a reliable wireless internet connection. Although the district had 802.11b and g wireless networks in place, the signals were not powerful enough to cut through interference generated by nearby antennas. Receiving the brunt of the interfering signals was Raytown's Education and Conference Center, which houses an alternative school as well as a meeting space.

"The center is next door to Kansas Power and Light, which has parabolic dish antennas on its roof that were just wreaking havoc on our wireless network," according to Justin Watermann, the district's technology coordinator. "On the third floor, where there are no trees to shield the antennas, it was instantly identifiable that we had a huge interference problem."

The signal interference was constantly causing wireless connections to drop throughout the building, and at times would even cause a total outage. "No matter how many access points we installed, we couldn't get around the problem," Watermann says. "We thought it was an unavoidable issue. It would connect and drop, connect and drop."

By the fall of 2008, the connectivity issues had become so bad that Raytown decided to find out if alternative technologies could help solve the problem. Going without a wireless network was not a feasible option for the district, since every one of its schools used laptops but did not have enough wired drops to accommodate them all. So Watermann began working with solution provider CDW-G (cdwg.com) to determine the best technology for eliminating, or at least reducing, the interference. CDW-G introduced the district to Aruba Networks (arubanetworks.com), a wireless infrastructure provider that features in its products Adaptive Radio Management (ARM), a technology that works around sources of interference to provide a strong signal.

"Radio environments are by nature dynamic," says Mike Tennefoss, head of strategic marketing at Aruba Networks. "All around there are WiFi, cellular, and other networks that are generating all sorts of noise in all frequencies. To work effectively, a wireless network needs to adapt, to compensate, or to avoid sources of interference. ARM automatically adjusts an access point's channel and power level to move the network to a band or frequency that is clear of interference."

That same fall, Raytown decided to test-drive an Aruba network in the Education and Conference Center, replacing its old hardware with products featuring the ARM technology. It worked; the new equipment solved the interference problem almost instantly. "It was like a light switch," recalls Watermann. "We decided right then and there that we would install the Aruba equipment throughout the district."

Raytown moved quickly to replace the wireless networks in all 18 of its buildings, which include early childhood, elementary, middle, and high schools; a vocational education building; and a school for students with disabilities. Within two months the entire network had been replaced.

The district's next natural step was to upgrade its 802.11b/g networking technology to the newer 802.11n standard, which is up to five times faster than its b/g counterparts and more powerful, with up to twice the range. The n standard was designed specifically with the needs of bandwidth-intensive applications in mind, such as high-definition streaming media. Downloading media files with 802.11 n technology, for example, usually takes just seconds, regardless of the number of users. Downloading media files using 802.11b or even g technology can, in contrast, take minutes, depending on the load and the amount of bandwidth present.

Since numerous students use high-bandwidth applications over Raytown's wireless network, having the speed--and a network that could handle the load--would be an asset to the district's learning environment. …