DIY Wi-Fi Part 2

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In my first instalment charting our experience of setting up a multi-access point wireless network in school, I mooted that some of the quotes for installs anecdotally ranged from anything from €10,000 for mid-sized primaries up  €50,000 and beyond for larger schools. Needless to say we hadn’t that kind of spare change so decided to adapt a more DIY approach minus the bells and whistles but fully functioning and costing less than €2000. What follows is the detail of the steps we took and the equipment used but first where we starting from….

network_cablesOur school is a single story building built in the late seventies and from end to end over 120 metres in length. This geography meant that initial whole-school networking grant received back in the naugties was only sufficient to network the computer properly and the remainder of the building had to make do with a mish-mash of 8 port hubs daisy chained with 20 metre patch cables. Needless to say this setup was far from ideal and would have deemed any effort to provide reliable wireless pointless. However as fortune would have it, within that year that same networking was being pulled out and  replaced with enterprise levl wired network infrastructure, part of a complete school re-wire sanctioned by the Department. This install boasted a fibre-optic backbone connecting two new coms cabinets and six wired points per classroom and even years later gave us the an excellent platform from which to develop wireless infrastructure, though there were still important factors to consider. Paramount was the placement of access points and for a number of reasons (primarily signal strength and interference) the preferred location was ceiling mounting. This immediately caused a problem however as no power points existed in close proximity and the cost of providing same in all necessary locations prohibitive. The solution we discovered…PoE (Power over Ethernet), a standard around for years now which enables both electrical power and data to pass simultaneously on the same network negating the requirement for both. Evidently to make use this technology  PoE-enabled networking equipment was required at additional cost but significantly less than installing additional power points. We decided to future proof as best we could and brought in an IT technician to route two network cables to each grade level, terminating four at the patch panel in the computer lab at the top of the school and the other four in in the second cabinet, situated midway in the building. Currently we only have one access point operating at each grade level but have the option of adding additional access points in the future if needs arise. To get it up and running, we installed one Netgear ProSafe 8 Port Switche with POE in each of the coms cabinets and then installed a Cisco WAP121 Access Point at each grade level. The selection of the above network hardware came down to a combination of functionality, brand, future proofing  and of course affordability. In particular we liked the Cisco APs, with step-by-step web-based wizards that make short work of multi-access point configuration.

So did we succeed? Probably too early to say but so far so good! We now have a fully functional  multi-access point roaming wireless network  minus the daisy chains and other plethora of network problems that DIY solution often bring. While I’m sure the pricier professional installs mentioned above offer additional benefits in security and maybe performance and you can’t really compare like with like. However the adage “Horses for courses” springs to mind and maybe many of this additional features are superfluous to a school’s needs? My own thoughts…If your school is currently in the market for a dependable whole-school wi-fi it could be well worth your while giving the DIY route a spin?

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