- Schools must act now to upgrade their network infrastructure and avoid issues as the number of connected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to proliferate, David Hutchins, CDW-G's vice president of higher education and K-12, writes for EdTech: Focus on K-12.
- The issue goes beyond just 1:1 device programs and the additional devices students and staff will undoubtedly bring onto campuses: IoT is playing a growing role in building security and operations, ranging from door locks, video surveillance and sensor monitoring to HVAC/heating and temperature regulation.
- This shift provides an opportunity for network modernization that eliminates the silos and layers inherent in existing network design, moving toward higher density and capacity via 802.11ac Wave 2 technology for wireless access, as well as Bluetooth and near-field communications tech. Using network virtualization can also place specific classes of IoT devices in "virtual containers," limiting their communication to the same kinds of devices and preventing broader damage in the event of a breach.
The call for network infrastructure upgrades and overhauls in schools is made so often that it can be easy to tune out. But the frequency of those calls is in line with the importance of heeding them. The massive amount of connected devices that will find themselves on school grounds, both out of necessity or because they were brought on by any number of users, could lead to bandwidth bedlam.
If some schools are already facing issues with networks not being able to handle large numbers of students taking digital standardized assessments, you can only imagine what the situation will look like once IoT devices are also using the network to manage building operations — all while it's most likely trying to manage at least two connected devices for every person on campus.
As of 2016, the Brookings Institution reported the State Education Technology Directors Association's recommendations for bandwidth speeds at a minimum 100 Kbps per student, with 250 Kbps per student for online learning and 1.5 Mbps per device if "bandwidth-intensive" resources like Khan Academy are in use. But, as noted, that was two whole years ago, and the FCC previously estimated that 1 Mbps per student would be the bare minimum by this year.
That's a good place to start, but schools and districts looking to fully prepare should also look to peers that have already made these upgrades for best practices, as well as potential pitfalls, based on their experiences.