The more than 1,900 K-12 students and teachers who returned to New York State's Alden Central School District on September 1 gained ubiquitous high-performance wireless Internet access for the first time using a district-wide Meru Networks 802.11n wireless LAN installed this summer.
The new WLAN "will change the way teachers interact with technology" in the four-school district, according to Frank Rizzo, Alden's director of instructional and information technology. Rizzo said the district selected Meru because the company's WLAN Virtualization architecture best addressed the challenges of letting large numbers of students and teachers work in virtually any location and enabling wireless technology to operate effectively in older, thick-walled cement buildings.
Meru WLAN Addresses Dense Student Environments, Need for Mobility
"More and more school districts in our region have gone with Meru," Rizzo said. "We have to ensure sufficient wireless coverage in dense environments where there might be 40 laptops in a small area. A neighboring district we talked with was testing a “micro-cell” vendor's product, and found that teachers moving from room to room with laptop carts would experience dropped connections, loss of access and corrupted grade books. With Meru it was more like a cell phone experience; you don't notice the 'handshaking' as you move between access points. It comes down to how Meru deals with channels: Meru’s concept of one channel for all access points provides a seamless handoff and limits co-channel interference. With the resulting level of reliability and stability in our wireless network, we now have a number of locations where there's no longer any reason to have active wired ports. If we ever want to increase the total capacity, we have additional channels for layering and essentially doubling the total network throughput."
The Meru WLAN will also provide a foundation for the district's increasing level of collaborative and mobile learning. "With our old Apple Airport network, we put access points where we thought we'd be using laptops, and people were tethered to those locations," Rizzo said. "If you strayed too far, you lost coverage. Now teachers aren't limited to specific areas. They can split the kids up for small group instruction in different classrooms, or even areas where you didn't think of being able to work with technology before. Suddenly a courtyard or a hallway – anywhere you can take a laptop cart – is a learning space."
In addition to shared learning tools, the wireless LAN will support high school students' news and feature reporting efforts for a daily video newscast available on a local cable-access station.
Meru Installation "So Easy, I Thought We Were Missing a Step"
The Meru WLAN's ease of installation and management also appealed to Rizzo. "We outsourced the cabling and mounting of access points, but our staff of three did all the configuration for 177 APs very quickly – it actually took longer to inventory the APs than to configure them through the central controller. The process was so quick, I kept thinking we were missing a step." And because all Meru APs reside on a single channel, "I don't have to think about putting APs on a map and worrying about the automatic channel reassignment software causing a “rippling effect” while ensuring neighboring channels do not interfere with that one. It makes my job a lot easier."
Choosing to go with the latest 802.11n wireless standard, the district deployed Meru's AP311 wireless dual-radio access points, which include one 802.11n radio and one 802.11a/b/g radio (software-upgradeable to 802.11n). The AP311's 11n capability provides 300-Mbps performance for newer laptops, while retaining full compatibility with legacy 802.11a/b/g standards for older models. A Meru MC4100 controller provides intelligent RF management for all access points.
About Alden Central School District
Alden Central School District (Alden CSD), located in Erie County in Western New York State, serves 1,891 students and includes four schools: Alden Primary School (grades K-2), Alden Intermediate School (grades 3-5), Alden Middle School (grades 6-8) and Alden High School (grades 9-12). The district has established a solid record of academic excellence which includes consistent annual achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all core academic areas and applicable groups, an 88 percent graduation rate (compared to the state standard of 55 percent), a 96 percent attendance rate, small class sizes, all classes taught by NYS-certified teachers, and a low and decreasing teacher turnover rate. The Intermediate and Middle Schools are Title I schools. For more information, visit http://aldenschools.org .
About Meru Networks
Founded in 2002, Meru Networks develops and markets wireless LAN infrastructure solutions that use virtualization to deliver pervasive, high-fidelity wireless service for business-critical voice, video and data applications. The company first introduced its award-winning virtual cell wireless architecture in 2003, and Meru products embody a complete departure from typical hub-based WLAN approaches, offering a wireless solution with levels of performance, reliability, security and cost-effectiveness previously found only in wired networking environments. Meru's solutions have been adopted in all major industry vertical markets, including Fortune 500 enterprises, healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing, hospitality and government. Meru is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., and has operations in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. For more information, visit www.merunetworks.com or call (408) 215-5300.