Solution for school wireless devices adopted

Ruckus Wireless™ today announced that a number of large school districts across the country, including the Pitt County Schools in Greenville, N.C.; the Campbell Union School District in Campbell, CA; the Nebo School District in Spanish Fork, UT; and the School District of Indian River County in Vero Beach, FL, have selected the Ruckus ZoneFlexSmart Wi-Fi system to address the influx of wireless devices – such as tablets, netbooks, and smartphones – hitting their networks.

A new study from ABI Research predicts that by 2016 there will be more than 830 million enterprise tablet and smartphone users. "Everyone understands that the makeup of device types within schools and enterprises is forever changing," said David Callisch, vice president of marketing for Ruckus Wireless. "What they don't realize is that this major shift to smarter, wireless-only mobile computing devices can have a profoundly negative impact on existing Wi-Fi networks.

"Our testing of tablets has consistently shown that using conventional Wi-Fi technology with these devices doesn't deliver anywhere near the performance people expect, often 1/10th that of a standard laptop. More importantly we've found that these devices can degrade the overall performance of Wi-Fi networks if schools don't take proper precautions," he said.

A flood of smartphone and tablet devices is creating a new set of Wi-Fi capacity, coverage and performance problems not previously experienced by schools. Unlike laptops, which typically remain in one location and can be connected with or without wires, new smart handheld wireless-only devices are used on the go, often have weaker Wi-Fi capabilities and are constantly moved around in different orientations.

This creates problems that conventional Wi-Fi technology was never developed to solve – leading school districts to choose newer Wi-Fi technology from Ruckus Wireless, specifically developed to provide adaptive, long range and high capacity Wi-Fi connectivity in environments that are particularly difficult for traditional Wi-Fi technology.

Unlike other Wi-Fi systems, each Ruckus ZoneFlex access point (AP) integrates patented adaptive antenna array technology that overcomes the limitations and performance inconsistencies of legacy Wi-Fi. Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi automatically adapts wireless signal transmissions to support challenging, interference-rich and high-density environments typically found in most K-12 school districts. When compared to conventional Wi-Fi, the result is a two- to three-fold increase in Wi-Fi performance and coverage with roughly half the number of APs at a fraction of the capital cost.

Pitt County Schools Sees 500% Increase in the Number of Wi-Fi Devices

At Pitt County Schools in Greenville, N.C., the number of handheld devices that require wireless access has increased by 500% over the past year.

"Twelve months ago, almost all of the wireless devices were laptops," said Jeff Smith, director of technology for the 35-school district. "This year, we've added many iPads, iPod Touches, and netbooks – most of which can only connect wirelessly – which has taken our Wi-Fi needs from being a network of convenience to being a critical backbone to classroom instruction."

Before implementing Smart Wi-Fi from Ruckus, the school district, with 23,000 students and 3,000 staff members, had wireless access only in certain parts of its schools, through sporadic placement of legacy APs. In areas where there was wireless coverage, the signals were often weak, owing to outdated technology and buildings that were constructed with older materials.

"It was virtually impossible to use devices in the classroom even when an AP was just down the hall," Smith said. "The network was geared towards small-scale laptop usage, but as time went on, we realized we needed a wireless network that could be a true enabler of education in the classroom."

After researching and testing available Wi-Fi systems, Smith and his team concluded that the ZoneFlex WLAN system would be the optimum choice to meet their needs. To blanket all 35 schools comprising 650 square miles, the district purchased 650 ZoneFlex 7363 802.11n indoor access points, along with redundant ZoneDirector controllers to manage the network.

More iPads Push Nebo School District to Better Wi-Fi

The Nebo School District, based in Spanish Fork, UT, needed to replace its outdated 802.11g wireless network, which served only secondary schools in the 40-school, 30,000-student district.

"We were seeing a lot of iPads coming into our network, which had inherent challenges with Wi-Fi connectivity on our existing wireless network. Additionally, with other mobile devices being used, our existing wireless solution did not provide consistent coverage or an effective way to manage secure network access," said Dale Bills, technical services supervisor for the district.

After evaluating systems from Meru and Xirrus, the Nebo school district chose the Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi system and purchased 622 ZoneFlex 7962 802.11n APs and three ZoneFlex 7762 802.11n outside APs, along with redundant ZoneDirector controllers. Bills' IT team is also using the FlexMaster remote Wi-Fi management system for system-wide configuration, event and firmware management.

"Our primary consideration is always cost, and Ruckus offered the most cost-effective implementation, along with superior performance," Bills said. "We're able to use fewer ZoneFlex access points to cover every campus and the signal strength was simply incredible."

Indian River Schools Gives Teacher and Students Faster Wireless Broadband

The Indian River School District in Vero Beach, FL, tried out several WLAN systems – including solutions form Avaya, Cisco, and Xirrus – before implementing Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi. "There's no comparison with any other wireless solution we've tried," said Michael Serrao, school support technician for the district, which operates 30 schools with 17,000 students. "Other solutions would have cost 10X what Ruckus did, but still not have delivered the trouble-free performance we now have."

The tipping point for the district's decision to implement Ruckus came when its technical staff tracked growth of wireless devices within its schools. "Wireless access used to be a convenience, not a necessity," Serrao said. "But now that tablets and other mobile devices are being integrated with classroom teaching, wireless access has become a must-have technology."

The district purchased 220 Ruckus ZoneFlex 7363 indoor APs, and 10 ZoneFlex 7962 APs, as well as a ZoneDirector 3250 controller. "Our initial testers have noticed a big difference in terms of broadband speed and availability," Serrano said. "Now that we have a stable wireless network, we can allow students to use more laptops and even look forward to use of personal wireless devices in school."

Silicon Valley School District Overcomes Stability Issues with Smarter Wi-Fi

Campbell Union School District (USD) in Campbell, CA, was also experiencing a flood of Wi-Fi devices used by its 800 faculty members and 7,500 students. However, its existing WLAN required the district's IT staff to manually input each device connection, and was also plagued with stability and coverage issues across the district's 12 locations.

"Reliable connectivity was one of our biggest issues, in particular because our student information system, PowerSchool, is 100% web-based," said Derek Moore, the district's supervisor of technology. "In addition, we saw more and more mobile devices coming onto the network that demanded high-performance wireless access. Our needs for a Wi-Fi system that worked across the entire school district and that also required minimal management and support quickly became priority one."

After considering wireless solutions from Cisco, Aruba, and Xirrus, the Campbell USD opted to standardize on the Ruckus ZoneFlex Wi-Fi system, and purchased 100 ZoneFlex 7962 802.11 dual-band indoor APs and one ZoneDirector 3050 WLAN controller. The district discovered it could gain wider coverage with fewer APs than would have been needed from other vendors, making the Ruckus system more cost-effective.