Brisbane school first to taste 802.11a

Brisbane school first to taste 802.11a

Brisbane Boys' College has implemented 802.11a wireless networking across its seniors' campus becoming one of the first schools in Australia to use the nascent technology.

The college’s IT director, Afzal Shariff, said the new technology was an extension to the school's previous wireless setup.

“At the beginning of last year we implemented wireless technology in our junior school which was most useful for rooms with no conventional cabling as well as outside the classrooms in some instances,” Shariff said. “There are four wireless access points in the junior school, which allow access to the network at 11Mbps shared.”

The college chose Cisco Aironet 1200 wireless access points for its senior school which are 802.11a (54Mbps) and 802.11b (11Mbps) compliant. There are about 30 laptops accessing the school’s wireless networks simultaneously.

“I did not want to implement technology which would be dead in a year and we needed a system advanced enough for future use, as well,” Shariff said. “To me, 11Mbps shared bandwidth did not appeal at all. The college had more advanced conventional cabling and the 54Mbps was ideal to deliver to wireless laptops. No other vendor had the technology at that time and Cisco’s service and support was excellent based on our previous experience.”

Shariff did not investigate the 802.11g technology as “it was not finalised and due to be released later in 2003”.

Earlier this year, the college implemented 12, 24 and 48 port Cisco Catalyst 2950 switches and Cisco Catalyst 4506 Core switch complemented with wireless technology in classrooms. The wired infrastructure serves 800 computers used by some 1450 students and 200 staff. Shariff said the reason behind the move was to replace old and ageing networking gear.

“We replaced all our 10Mbps Netgear hubs and old switches,” he said.

The Cisco Catalyst 4506 Core switch is centrally located in the server room in the college’s resource centre and from there 100Mbps is transmitted to most of the desktops.

Shariff said he was cautiously optimistic about the security implications associated with running a wireless.

“No matter how secure you set your system up to be, there is always an occasional hacker who gets through,” he said. “We hope to keep on top of this by using the patches supplied.

“With 802.11a we can use two types of security methods. First, there’s WEP, which is 128bit encryption from point-to-point and it allows encryption keys to be dynamically rotated as opposed to static keys. They are more vulnerable to hackers.

"Secondly, with EAP technology using a radius server it allows authentication on the user level, that is, who is able to access what areas on the network. BBC intends to enable this within a year.”

While unable to divulge the cost of the implementation, Shariff was confident it has been money well spent.

“The college believes it is important to be at the forefront of technology in education and in fact one of the key attractions for enrolments is our IT program across the curriculum,” he said. “Lessons are more practical in today’s environment and online searches and demonstrations are day-to-day activities. Therefore, it is important for us to implement technology which can be used by students without any problems of cable connection.”

As for those looking to deploy wireless technology in the enterprise, Shariff recommended considering speed and security.

“If someone is deploying wireless technology, I would recommend it be based on the speed and type of technology,” he said. “So far we are happy with the technology and although it is too early to tell its pros and cons, later in the year I will be able to give more critical feedback.”

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