Here’s how to build a cost-effective network and maximize E-Rate funding

 In Hardware, Networking

Armed with E-Rate funding, schools and libraries are bolstering their wireless networks by upgrading routers and adding access points. Many schools use the funding in preparation for a 1:1 initiative, where each student is paired with a tablet or mobile device. Libraries can enhance their patrons’ experiences by improving wireless access.

However, schools and libraries shouldn’t just measure performance of their network, but also must balance those benchmarks with cost-effectiveness, affordability, and overall return on investment (ROI).

In preparing for a 1:1 rollout and wireless LAN overhaul, maximize your investment by laying a groundwork that optimizes your network’s capabilities while remaining affordable. Pursue improvements that maximize your funding. And in some cases, look into monetizing your Wi-Fi for a greater ROI.

1-1 initiative

We’re holding two webinars on these topics in the coming weeks — Preparing your school district for a 1:1 Initiative and Monetizing your Wi-Fi. But until then, here’s how to get started.

A four-part plan that gets more bang for your buck

1. Conduct a network assessment: An easy but overlooked start to a network upgrade, this assessment should be done as soon as your school decides on a 1:1 deployment to help IT design and implement the network improvements.

If a 1:1 initiative is the final exam, a network assessment is the homework leading up to it. Without this holistic view of the network, IT is blind to how many devices the network can handle and how applications will affect performance. Conducting an assessment (or hiring an outside expert to do one) gives IT the ability to prioritize and build a dynamic, reliable, and scalable network that recoups underused assets and provides more coverage to high-concentration wireless areas.

2. Focus on small improvements: To build a scalable yet cost-effective wireless network, IT must examine its simplest building blocks, including cabling, methods of redundancy (like a secondary internet connection), and licensing considerations. Though these are simple ideas, they’re often forgotten because management emphasizes more access points and high-capacity routers. However, properly employing these components and being licensed correctly can save a school district money while simultaneously improving the overall network.

An example of this is cloud-managed controllers versus an on-premises controller; realistically, both solutions present certain advantages, but the decision will come down to cost and the ability of IT to manage the network. The bottom line is these components will impact the network through scalability and redundancy, and IT must consider the up-front and ongoing costs of each component.

3. Explore all options: The wireless hardware field is a crowded one. Remember, your first choice may not integrate smoothly in your existing environment. IT must thoroughly research multiple manufacturers to find the hardware that fits your specific needs. In other words, do your homework.

4. Consider monetizing your network: Libraries receiving E-Rate funding may look to monetize their Wi-Fi for a greater return on investment. By partnering with third-party companies that offer coupons and offers to Wi-Fi users, libraries can make a few cents on every transaction over their wireless network, similar to what’s done at stadiums and other public areas. Pay periods for public Wi-Fi may be an option, too. But, don’t forget to complete an assessment before expanding the network.

Build a cost-effective network

Schools and libraries must adhere to strict budgets, especially when undergoing a 1:1 rollout. IT will spend more money if the system is poorly designed and needs repairs. That’s where a network assessment and design can help, ensuring scalability and reliability. IT can maximize an E-Rate investment by understanding the network’s requirements and limitations.

Join us for our first two free E-Rate webinars over the next several weeks to go more in depth about these topics and explore strategies to maximize your E-Rate funding. The first webinar, scheduled for this afternoon, will show school IT administrators how to prepare for a 1:1 initiative. The second will explain how libraries can put their wireless network to work through Wi-Fi monetization. Register for the webinars today!

Ashley Sigona contributed to this post.

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