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Raroa School could have been a wireless nightmare

27 Sep 11

Students were frustrated at Raroa (Ra-Roe-Ah) School in New Zealand. They couldn’t connect to the wireless network, and even when they could, the Wi-Fi signal was weak, performance was poor and staying connected was nearly impossible.

A large and bustling intermediate public school in Wellington, New Zealand with over 500 students and 30 staff, Raroa consumes a multi-acre campus with six multi-story buildings, two prefabricated buildings, outdoor common areas, gymnasium and fields. The school has also taken a leading position with respect to technology - having implemented a robust wired network, fiber gigabit backbone and computer carts equipped with laptops.

"There’s an increasing expectation that wireless connectivity should be available everywhere at school,” said Simon Kenny, ICT Resource at Raroa School. "We’ve always used technology to improve the educational experience. But with traditional Wi-Fi technology, we were going backwards.”

Raroa’s initial venture into Wi-Fi consisted of sprinkling Linksys access points (APs) throughout their three, twostory classroom buildings and around campus. While inexpensive, Raroa found the Wi-Fi APs just couldn’t provide the stability, signal coverage or performance required. "Teachers and students began to lose confidence and get extremely frustrated,” said Kenny. "Client devices would cling to an AP or drop their connection altogether. We wasted a year trying to fix the problem. It was simply a disaster.”

Computer trolleys equipped with 20 wireless laptops were frequently left unused because the Wi- Fi system couldn’t handle the density of users simultaneously requesting Wi-Fi service. "Most of the time students just couldn’t login,” said Kenny. "This was causing us all kinds of headaches. So we decided to look for a proper, managed wireless LAN system.”

Raroa wanted to implement a completely coordinated and robust WLAN system that could be administered from a central point. Moreover, Raroa needed a feature-rich system that could provide better range and was adaptable to a dynamic environment. And because IT staff and budgets were limited, the Wi-Fi system had to be cost-effective. Raroa was also interested in using the WLAN to ultimately stream video, such as Sky TV, to classrooms.

Kenny noted that Raroa’s environment was a particular challenge for conventional Wi-Fi systems because buildings were constructed of steel and brick, the physical area was so large, and interference caused dropped packets and poor performance.

So Raroa went looking for better Wi-Fi.

"What we found was just more of the same nasty Wi- Fi technology that really did nothing to adapt to the changing Wi-Fi environment,” said Kenny. Kenny was then introduced to Ruckus Wireless by Connector Systems and its solutions partner New Era IT.

"The Ruckus technology was unlike any we’d seen, completely tailored to our requirements for longer range signals, better reliability and simpler management,” said Kenny. "But the devil’s in the details. We needed to put this kit to the test.”

So they did. Raroa and New Era IT began testing the Ruckus ZoneFlex Smart WLAN system on campus and found their coverage and signal stability problems quickly disappeared.

Because of the extended coverage delivered by a long-range smart antenna array integrated within each Ruckus AP, Raroa needed to deploy only 10 ZoneFlex Smart Wi-Fi 802.11g APs ( a combination of ZoneFlex 2925s and ZoneFlex 2942 APs), to achieve complete coverage across the campus. "Raroa would have needed at least one AP per classroom (18 classrooms) with any other WLAN system and still wouldn’t get the reliability they needed,” said Barry Moore, Systems Engineer at New Era IT. "On top of that, the Ruckus ZoneFlex system was literally thousands of dollars less than comparable Cisco or Trapeze wireless solutions.”

Raroa deployed two ZoneFlex APs in each of the three classroom blocks, one in the office block, one in the Performing Arts classroom and one in each of the prefab buildings. For central AP and RF management, Raroa installed the ZoneDirector 1012 controller.

Within four hours, New Era IT was able to configure and deploy the entire ZoneFlex Smart WLAN system. "The best thing about this system was how simple it was to configure, deploy and administer” said Moore.

Raroa now monitors and administers the campus WLAN from a single point without dispatching technicians.

The Ruckus ZoneFlex system was also able to provide Raroa with future-proofed options as the school considers streaming SkyTV to classrooms and using the Wi-Fi network to access stored video content on a ClickView video server system.

"We are now able to focus on providing a better educational experience and more efficient school process, instead of constantly having to put out Wi-Fi fires,” concluded Kenny. 

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