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HetNet News: FCC creates new opportunity for Wi-Fi providers

As part of its effort to increase mobile broadband access across the country, the Federal Communications Commission is budgeting $5 billion for increasing Wi-Fi access in schools through the federal E-Rate program. The move is good news for makers of Wi-Fi access points and networking equipment, as well as for software providers that are focused on the K-12 market.
Cisco, Ruckus Wireless and Xirrus are among the companies that supply Wi-Fi access points to school districts. Xirrus says K-12 is its most important vertical.
“This funding comes exactly at the right time as many of America’s schools must refresh their wireless networks to take advantage of a new wave of technology and learning tools coming to market along with supporting mandated online testing,” said Xirrus product marketing manager Bruce Miller. “Schools must consider new wireless technology such as 802.11ac to take them through the 5 year contract periods specified by the program. The influx of Chromebooks, and in just a few months, millions of new iOS 8 devices, places new burdens on aging wireless infrastructure and highlights the importance of this program for thousands of schools.”
Xirrus wants to give schools the ability to upgrade easily as Wi-Fi standards evolve. With that goal in mind, the company recently introduced a set of 802.11ac Wave 1 solutions that are upgradeable to 802.11ac Wave 2.
Policy is key
The K-12 environment has special needs when it comes to access control, because budgets are tight, students need to be monitored, and there is a lot to be gained by implementing policies that enable good interaction between districts.
“There are over 52 million schools in the K-12 environment, and over 10.000 school districts. One of the biggest problems is a common, uniform policies and procedures about what to do about connectivity,” said Gerry Purdy, analyst at Compass Intelligence. “It started very simple with ‘Hey, we’ve got a desktop in the back of the room, we need a connection to it.’ Then it migrated to devices that they would bring in that were mobile. Now, they’re having students bring devices into the environment. I find that getting technology and policies working is as big as the money problem.”
“Every district has a very strict budget,” said Jonathan Horvath, product manager at Smith Micro Software. “If they start going over budget on data plans it can jeopardize the entire digital classroom experience. So we’ve implemented methods for monoitoring and thresholding of the data usage and we even have the ability to go ahead and turn off the 3G or 4G radio and force them over the Wi-Fi for the rest of that billing period.”
Safety issues create opportunities
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires most schools that benefit from E-rate discounts to certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. These measures often include CIPA filters – third party content filters that control what sites students can access. With mobile devices, keeping those filters in place when students take devices off campus can be a challenge, and this creates opportunities for software providers. Smith Micro Software is one vendor that has created policy solutions with schoools in mind.
“We’ve developed a solution that inserts proxies into Wi-Fi access profiles, and directs that traffic to the content filter,” explained Smith Micro’s Jonathan Horvath. “The school can provide devices, let the children take them home so they can continue their education off campus, at home, at the library, or even at Starbucks, and still insure that they’re protected, not just in what they can get to and what their information is, but also should that device go missing we’ve got ability to locate, lock and wipe that device.”
Cyber-bullying is another safety issue that has come to light as connected devices proliferate in the K-12 environment. Gerry Purdy of Compass Intelligence said that an independent study 80% of students have seen or experienced cyber-bullying by the time they finish high school. Purdy believes that a connectivity plan for a school needs to include policies that enable trusted adults to have oversight of student communication.
“Nobody wants the first indication that cyber-bullying happened to be a suicide,” said Purdy. “We’ve seen that happen, it has happened, it makes the big headline news. Let’s use the technology to intervene.”


Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports ( At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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