Pete Roythorne gets to grips with wireless networking
Wireless networking certainly makes sense for schools; the ability to log on to the internet, send emails and access important files on the server from anywhere on campus - indoors or out - is just the icing on the cake.
When combined with laptops in the classroom, then you are not anchored to one spot and the focus moves from the ICT to the subject being taught.
It is also a crucial feature if we are to progress further with the much talked-of mobile learning phenomenon.
Wireless networking, aka Wi-Fi, uses similar technology to mobile phones to allow you to send and receive data from anywhere within the range of a wireless access point on your network.
It's cheaper and more versatile than conventional "wired-in" networking as you don't have to spend vast sums of money laying cables, and moving or adding computers to the network is easy. This can be a major plus for schools wanting to set up temporary areas or grow their existing network.
There are three main varieties of wireless standard to understand: l 802.11b has a transfer speed of up to 11 megabits per second (the amount of data that can be transferred in one second) and has a range of around 30 metres, but it runs on a popular frequency, so can suffer interference from mobile phones and other wireless devices.
* 802.11a runs on a less-populated frequency and is therefore less prone to interference. Its bandwidth (speed at which data can be transferred) is much higher, 54Mbps. Its main problem is its range is just 15 metres.
* 802.11g is the latest standard and the one that is becoming increasingly prominent. It combines the speed of 802.11a with the longer range of 802.11b - but in the same way it can be affected by interference. You can also still use it with 802.11b devices.
One potential problem with wireless networks is susceptibility to security problems. Theoretically, anyone with a wireless-enabled computer could break into your network. However, the problem is far from insurmountable, although too big to go into here. To find out more, have a look at Becta's paper, Wireless Networking in Schools (www.becta.org.uk).
One other thing may concern you - health issues. With mobile phone masts coming under question, it's good to know that, with wireless networking, although using similar technology, the emissions are much lower, and devices, obviously, do not need to be held close to children's heads during use.
The Becta report claims wireless technology is suitable for all types of school, and can have major educational benefits for students. So what are you waiting for?
Specialist Schools Trust www.schoolsnetwork.org.uk RM www.rm.com