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Going wireless

Students of St Bernard's Catholic High School in Rotherham, Yorkshire can access Internet course materials instantly from any classroom in the building, thanks to a wireless LAN from Meru Networks.

The school wanted to provide reliable access for its 670 students throughout the school, so subject teachers can use Internet resources in any lesson, without having to move the class into a dedicated IT suite. The wireless LAN had to be reliable, and able to support up to 64 laptops at once.

“Whole classes of students can access the network at the same time without interruption,” said Paul Clark, Strategy leader for ICT at St Bernard's. “This network gives more flexible access to our ICT facility, and will allow us to get laptops into all curriculum areas.”

UK based Networks by Wireless€ won a competitive tender, convincing St Bernard's School that wireless LAN equipment from Meru Networks would succeed where other equipment had failed, and provide a network the school could trust.

The school has a new wired LAN, installed this year, and each classroom has a networked PC and an interactive whiteboard. Paul wanted to go further, and give each student network access, but was not convinced wireless LANs were up to the job.

“We had tried a wireless LAN before, with a few access points in a small area, but we took it out a year ago, because it was unreliable,” said Paul. After this experience, Paul was sceptical that any wireless LAN could meet his school's requirements: “We had decided to move away from wireless and get things cabled in.”

The demands of pupil access changed that. When a large number of laptops, wheeled to the classroom in a trolley, are handed to students at the beginning of a lesson, wired connections are simply impractical. So the school issued an invitation to network companies, to tender for a reliable wireless LAN that would allow instant access anywhere in the school.

The winner of that tender, Meru's fourth generation single-channel wireless LAN, avoids the unreliability and interference issues common place with legacy wireless LANs. Access points are placed on a single radio channel, eliminating the need for costly channel planning. Meru's coordinated access points ensure bandwidth is shared efficiently, everyone gets the best connection possible, and the network is managed centrally with its award-winning Air Traffic Control technology and System Director software.

“Our biggest misgivings were that Meru's single channel architecture was different to every other wireless LAN vendor,” said Paul. His technicians evaluated the product, before it was set up by Networks by Wireless.

The network was installed quickly by Networks by Wireless during the school's summer holiday, and was running smoothly before the pupils returned in September. Most vendors' equipment requires a detailed site survey to position the radios and avoid interference, but with Meru's single-channel architecture, that wasn't necessary: “The wireless part just worked,” says Paul. “The hardest part of the installation was upgrading the network with Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) injectors to drive the access points.”

The network is future-proof, if the school needs faster network access in future, says Paul: “We can upgrade to 802.11n when we need it – but 802.11abg meets our current needs.”

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