By Heather Mullinix
A project to bring wireless Internet access to Cumberland County schools is progressing, with seven schools complete and online. The project is anticipated to be completed by the first of May.
"We're now finished with seven schools," explained Eric Testorff, technology coordinator. "Those were the most difficult schools. We're well beyond 50 percent complete, and the easier schools are yet to come."
Schools where the project is complete are the Phoenix School and Central Office complex, Homestead Elementary, Glenn Martin Elementary, Pleasant Hill Elementary, Stone Memorial High School and Cumberland County High School. North Cumberland Elementary was expected to be completed by March 1 and work would then begin at South Cumberland Elementary.
The wireless Internet project will provide coverage for wireless devices in all instructional spaces and offices. Industrial-grade wireless devices communicate with each other much like cell phone towers, transferring the service as the wireless device moves about the school. Each device can support 30 to 70 wireless devices at fast speeds.
That's important as more and more wireless devices hit the market.
Jim Baker, with Meru Networks, said, "There's a tidal wave of devices coming. Statistics say most incoming college freshmen are bringing eight wireless devices on to campus with them."
The project was budgeted at $720,000 and was funded with savings from the construction project at Pine View Elementary.
"I can safely predict we will come in on budget and on time," Testorff said. "We've had great cooperation with the schools, principals and staff. We tried to do the majority of the work from 3 to 11 p.m. and the schools worked with us to shift around the night janitors' schedules to lock up when the crew was finished. When we did have to wire during the school day, it went smoother than we thought, thanks to the cooperation of our schools."
The project completion had been anticipated for the end of the school year, with testing of the system to occur during the summer. Testorff said the early completion will allow for 20 days of testing the wireless network with school in session.
"That gives us 20 days with students and staff hammering the system to see how it operates under load," he said.
One issue being addressed is the bottleneck that occurs in the school system's pipe to the Internet, limiting the number of people who can connect to the system.
"People are going to the Internet for all kinds of things we never conceived of five years ago," Testorff said.
The influx of wireless technology can cause a problem in the school system with a limited number of IP addresses. For example, there are 800 IP addresses at Cumberland County High School, but it's possible there are 1,250 to 1,300 devices wanting to access the network.
"Every time a device gets on the network, it keeps another machine from getting on it because it takes the IP address," VanWinkle said, adding the network was password protected, but many students were able to access it.
The school system plans to upgrade its Internet access in the coming weeks and offer a public wireless network that would support those mobile devices taking up IP addresses in the schools. This network would still be subject the school's filtering technology to block certain websites and content but would be separate from the secure network.