WiFi system supports latest mobile technology in schools

Ruckus Wireless™ today announced that its ZoneFlex Smart Wi-Fi system has been recently selected by a number of K-12 schools to support a new era of wireless applications that exploit the power and mobility of smart tablet devices such as Apple iPads.

Emerging smart tablet devices present new wireless connectivity challenges for corporations. Unlike conventional laptops that tend to stay in a fixed position, iPads and other new smart mobile devices are constantly moving because they are held in the hands of users who are continually altering the orientation of the device. The slightest change in antenna orientation of these devices has shown to cause dramatic swings in wireless performance as the integrity of the signal path is in a continual state of change.

Conventional Wi-Fi systems, using standard omni-directional antennas, have no ability to adaptively cope with device orientation changes. These systems, functioning like audio speakers, blast Wi-Fi signals in all directions. Patented advances in Wi-Fi, called adaptive antenna technology, overcome these problems by constantly steering Wi-Fi signals over the best path for each device, even as the device changes its orientation. This adaptation happens on a packet-by-packet basis as the Smart Wi-Fi system learns how it is performing based on real-time feedback from each client device.

Wi-Fi Capable Devices Dominate Data Traffic

Research firm iSuppli predicts that global shipments of mobile Internet devices are set to rise to 416 million units in 2012, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50.6 percent from 53.8 million in 2007. According to AdMob's Mobile Metrics report (May 2010), 60 percent of data traffic in the U.S. came from Wi-Fi capable devices with 58 percent of the world's iPad users located in the U.S.

Throughout the U.S. and abroad, K-12 schools and universities are utilizing iPads, iPhones, tablets and other handheld devices to enable mobility in the classroom and achieve higher standards of learning. Meanwhile hospitals and clinics rely on iPads and mobile devices to support Electronic Medical Records (EMR) software and deliver better bedside patient care.

The Ruckus Wireless Smart Wi-Fi equipment is often selected in these environments over other available wireless LAN solutions because of its reliable performance and ability to support high client density requirements, typical of large-scale mobile device usage.

Among the recent schools to deploy Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi to support a mobile computing environment are Hood River School District in northern Oregon, and Central York School District in south central Pennsylvania – both of which have standardized their entire districts on the ZoneFlex wireless LAN (WLAN) system.

"Our teachers rely heavily on the Internet and Web-based applications for instruction, giving tests and quizzes, grading work, logging attendance and even streaming video from time to time," said Joe Lucia, network administrator for Central York School District. "Between our teachers and students, we have 400 mobile devices in use at any given time at some of our schools, and we needed a robust, reliable wireless network to support such high usage. Ruckus has performed beyond our expectations, and for a fraction of the cost of other systems we evaluated."

iPads at School

Pennsylvania's Central York School District, comprising five elementary schools, one middle and one high school, and with 5,600 students and 425 teachers, has an all Apple computing infrastructure. Students use district-purchased Apple Macbooks, iPod Touches with educational applications, and iMacs in the classroom.

With the district's previous wireless network, there were continuous problems. The Wi-Fi gear had difficulty interoperating with the various Apple devices, and connections were constantly dropped and signal range was poor. As the district's use of mobile devices and laptop computers grew, the need to move to 802.11n became increasingly important, according to Lucia.

"With such heavy use of mobile devices, as well as our plans to beta test certain devices in the classroom, we knew we needed a more powerful wireless network that was more adaptive," said Lucia.

Working with its integration partner Dauphin Datacom, Central York was able to provide campus-wide coverage at all seven schools, as well as to the central district office, by deploying 250 ZoneFlex 802.11n Smart Wi-Fi APs – and ZoneDirector controllers for centralized network management.

Each Ruckus ZoneFlex Smart Wi-Fi AP integrates a patented smart antenna array that focuses and directs Wi-Fi signals over the best signal path, automatically mitigating interference to ensure the highest data rates and consistent performance wherever clients roam. ZoneFlex Smart Wi-Fi access points can be deployed as standalone APs without a controller or with a controller as a fully centralized wireless LAN system.

"Not only does the Ruckus Wi-Fi network support our high density requirements, but we also use the wireless network for pretty much all our operational needs," said Lucia. "Without it, our entire system would be crippled."

At the Hood River School District, with close to 4,000 students across five elementary and two middle schools, one high school and one K-8 school, creation of "technology-rich" classrooms is the driving force behind their use of Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi. With a $250 million grant to purchase laptop computers, iPads and other handheld devices, the school district knew it needed to upgrade its previous 802.11g wireless infrastructure to support a high-user density mobile computing environment.

"Our aim is to create an infrastructure that inspires students to stay engaged in the curriculum," said Tod Hilstad, director of IT at Hood River School District. "We have several mobile laptop carts that go from classroom to classroom, and we're also undergoing a pilot program using iPads and other handheld devices as teaching and learning tools.

"The iPad is magical – it captures kids' attention and makes learning fun. With schools under pressure to have wireless in the classroom for laptops and other devices, use of the iPad and Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi presents the perfect opportunity to use advanced technology as a foundation for learning," he said.

Hilstad said that over a two-month period his team evaluated equipment from Ruckus and two other providers. They performed real-world tests on each system in the classroom, with high amounts of interference from many devices using the 2.4 Ghz band. "Our technology-rich classrooms are an incredibly challenging environment, and yet the Ruckus system was superior at handling interference and optimizing power to client devices. It was an easy choice for us to make," he said.

To blanket all of the district's schools with reliable, high-performance Wi-Fi, he purchased 70 Ruckus ZoneFlex 802.11n dual-band access points, and ZoneDirector 3000 controllers.

"I wrestled with the inadequacies of our previous system for years, and it's such a relief to have a self-optimizing, self-healing Wi-Fi network that not only keeps up with current demands, but that will also serve us long into the future," said Hilstad.