School Districts Turn to Cloud-Managed 4G LTE for Primary, Failover & In-Vehicle Network Needs
Recently, Ed Tech magazine cited “creating future-ready networks for future-ready students” as the top trend in education technology. Network administrators in K-12 school districts are challenged with a seemingly impossible mandate: improve network availability, quality of service, and reliability without incurring a massive increase in capital investment or personnel.
These challenges are compounded by IT teams’ limited time and resources, and by schools’ rigorous network security standards.
Instead of continuing to employ the same old network architectures, applications, and hardware, many forward-thinking school districts are completely changing the way they approach their networks.
Advancements in Education Technology Create New Network Needs
Technology-rich classrooms aren’t novel anymore. The need for connectivity in the classroom is a given, thanks to the development of inexpensive devices such as Chromebooks, as well as standards that mandate classroom technology in preparation for the real-world workplace. However, most school districts haven’t yet managed to catch the network up to the classroom’s needs, which include:
- More bandwidth, especially during peak usage times such as online testing or when everyone is logging on in the morning.
- Greater reliability to maximize class time. Teachers try to utilize every minute of class time, and frequent network outages can have serious consequences for students who miss out on instructional opportunities.
- The ability to protect students from potentially harmful content or actors on the Internet; the ability to protect the network from being infiltrated by savvy and curious students; and the ability to grant teachers and administrators more freedom when accessing the Internet.
Achieving these goals is difficult, with many barriers in the way. For one thing, it’s expensive to provision and maintain wired line service. Even POTS (plain old telephone service) lines can be prohibitively expensive. When school districts need to connect new locations or add more network capacity, they must make tradeoffs to keep the budget in line.
It’s also expensive to manage a growing stack of network and security hardware at each location. Large capital investments on hardware at the network’s Edge prohibit the school district from evolving the network as quickly as is needed. Troubleshooting and maintaining the network’s hardware requires sending personnel on site. For some school districts, the travel time between district headquarters and certain schools is prohibitive from both a logistical and budgetary standpoint.
There’s also a learning curve associated with making major changes to network architectures or solutions. Because of the limited time and resources K-12 IT teams deal with, along with the high turnover that some teams face, efforts to do things differently can be met with resistance, and the opportunity cost associated with training employees on an entirely new system can and should be a real consideration.
Changing Network Technology Presents New Opportunities
While IT teams in education face many challenges, most of these are not unique; virtually every industry is grappling with similar issues. Old solutions often can’t solve new problems. Here are three ways Cradlepoint’s wired and wireless solutions help IT teams evolve their networks and prepare for the future:
Cradlepoint’s all-in-one routers allow organizations to manage wired connectivity along with LTE cellular data all in the same device. By diversifying their WAN links, school districts can use other forms of connectivity (such as LTE during peak times or less expensive local Internet services), allowing them to scale to meet growing bandwidth needs during peak times in a more cost-effective way. Using Cradlepoint solutions for primary routing also helps simplify the network infrastructure and the management of that network, which is key to making the network future-proof.
Failover & Out-of-Band Management
Cradlepoint routers leverage LTE networks to provide schools with reliable WAN failover. Schools that use LTE for back-up connectivity don’t have to worry that whatever caused a network outage on the wired network will also affect the failover source.
Additionally, Cradlepoint routers offer Out-of-Band Management (OOBM). When a primary router goes down, IT teams can use the Cradlepoint device, along with cloud management services within the Cradlepoint NetCloud platform, to access, troubleshoot, and often repair the primary router, regardless of the brand of the external device. This also allows districts to decrease their reliance on POTS lines and modems for troubleshooting issues remotely.
If, for example, a network administrator mistakenly misconfigures the access control list (ACL) and loses connectivity to that site, it’s not necessary to send someone on site to remediate the issue. For a school district IT team with scarce resources (including available man-hours), removing the need for on-site visits to resolve a network outage at a school is critical.
Connected School Buses
Many school districts across the U.S. are turning their school buses into rolling hotspots by leveraging cloud-managed, 4G LTE-based routers for highly reliable wireless WAN and best-in-class WiFi for students.
Cradlepoint’s hardened and vehicle-ready routers enable CIPA-compliant WiFi with content filtering, giving youths the opportunity to do homework while traveling to and from school and extracurricular trips — turning what usually amounts to “lost time” into beneficial a studying experience.
Transportation departments can have real-time monitoring of their bus fleet by deploying AVL and telematics software in conjunction with Cradlepoint routers. This allows fleet managers to spot service issues and make repairs in a proactive method, instead of relying on bus drivers or maintenance personnel to report issues after the fact.
Also, security departments have access to on-board security cameras during emergencies, leveraging the 4G LTE network. The security footage can be uploaded to a central repository when buses are brought back into the depot using Cradlepoint’s WiFi-as-WAN functionality.
Adding devices and applications to a K-12 school’s network doesn’t necessarily mean more time spent on troubleshooting and maintenance. Enterprise Cloud Manager, a service within Cradlepoint NetCloud, enables visibility and management over the whole network from a single, central location. IT teams can roll out firmware upgrades to the entire network in minutes, receive alerts when something’s amiss, and avoid costly truck rolls for routine management and maintenance.
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