Canberra school rolls out campus-wide Wi-Fi

In what may be the largest wireless network to be implemented by a local school, Canberra Girls' Grammar School (CGGS) has started installing 47 access points with the aim of blanket coverage of three separate campuses with a total area of 90,000 square metres.

The school's ICT manager Al Blake told Computerworld that wireless is really an enabler for other things such as student administration and IP phones.

"Our ground staff use mobiles resulting in high phone bills," Blake said. "Also, our junior school has few physical phones so deploying IP softphones for staff will cost a lot less than hardwiring phones."

The school will spend $60,000 on the Wi-Fi network; the access point installation stage of the project is scheduled for completion by early November.

"We have three campuses and are deploying wireless on each one with fibre between them," he said. "Staff and students can then roam anywhere within a campus. There is a single VLAN for the wireless network which is separate to our wired network."

This installation stage will also require access points to be moved around to ensure complete coverage is achieved.

The school is an existing Cisco customer and is using its wireless access points.

"We are a Cisco network and we approached it to talk about wireless and, since we are a school, got aggressive pricing," Blake said. "The access points are Cisco 802.11b/g. We have existing 802.11b-enabled notebooks but as 802.11g is the way forward it was chosen for backward compatibility."

Blake said the only issue experienced so far has been with getting existing b clients to work with the access points but because of "standards" he is confident they will work.

On wireless security, Blake said, "that is the $100,000 question".

"Our design criteria consisted of three things: coverage, security, and manageability," he said. "We have had a few access points and were using static WEP which was better than nothing, but it wouldn't scale. My IT team is six people which is a small number for a network of our size. So we needed to have minimal management overhead with our wireless network."

Having deployed Windows XP SP2 on most of the school's 600 machines IT can control wireless security through Active Directory. And all the access points talk to a Radius server and get certificates from the certificate server.

"We're doing the best we can with our budget and we feel we're at the front of our industry," Blake said.

The school will now add another 100 notebooks to its fleet by year's end with plans to buy more.

Although CGGS will have the infrastructure to go completely mobile, it hasn't given up on desktops which Blake says still have their place. "We're about to put in another 150 desktops and install three more wired labs," Blake said. "Notebooks are not the only solution for us and desktops for a classroom environment still offer a lower TCO. For example, we spend thousands every year replacing notebook batteries."

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