The Lytchett Minster School in Dorset recently made the news among IT commentators after demonstrating how it could overcome the connectivity challenges of its rural location, cut costs and increase efficiency by upgrading its on-site network with Chinese company TP-Link’s enhanced Wi-Fi.

Challenges

As recently featured by Computer Weekly, the school had to contend with a rural campus location and the resulting poor connectivity, next to a grade II listed 18th century manor house, and a rudimentary system of ageing individual home-user access points (APs) mounted in school corridors which required users to disconnect and reconnect when roaming around.   Also, the old wireless network was not voucher-based and was insecure (the pre-shared key could be compromised), which meant that staff had to reset each AP’s password individually (with remote authentication dial-in user service help) and users had to keep reconnecting each of their devices to the network.

As is the case with so many schools, Lytchett Minster School had to make its limited budget go as far as possible in the upgrade.  This meant the need to minimise price per AP and annual licensing fees while getting the best value, efficient and effective wireless infrastructure solution.

Requirements

It was decided that the most important requirements on the school’s list were power over Ethernet (PoE), Radius authentication, centralised management, provision of multiple service set identifiers (SSIDs) and voucher authentication.

TP-Link Chosen

The school chose Chinese company TP-Link to upgrade their on-site network based on features offered, value for money, and the fact that TP-Link builds its hardware itself instead of outsourcing and, therefore, doesn’t charge licensing fees.

Founded in 1996 by two brothers and based in Shenzhen, China, TP-Link is a manufacturer of computer networking products and is now the world’s number 1 provider of consumer Wi-Fi networking devices, shipping products to over 170 countries. 

Change

Changing to the upgraded, enhanced Wi-Fi meant that the old APs could be moved from corridors into classrooms for optimum performance and coverage. The changes to a better enhanced Wi-Fi network also meant that access control lists could issue users with vouchers that restricted network access at the subnet according to core user group, out of hours separate public access SSID could be offered to users of the school’s sports facilities, larger numbers of staff iPads and phones could be used for teaching, and special provisions could be made for the BYOD policy for  sixth form students.

The new system also enabled easier, centralised management of the network with data from each AP being displayed to the IT department on large screens, with no more need to perform network reboots (as these can happen automatically at 6 am every day to avoid disrupting lessons), and the ability to carry out all key tasks from a central interface.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story is an example of how the potential of an organisation (a school in this case) was limited by poor Wi-Fi provision, partly due to its rural location and old, inadequate hardware. The school showed that today, it is possible for a school based in Dorset to choose a Chinese tech firm as a partner to deliver a business-class wireless network solution that meets all operational requirements within budget, and without the extra cost of ongoing licence fees. An enhanced Wi-Fi system of this kind also offers the convenience, transparency and ease of centralised control.