Being connected is a need for many people and organizations, however, in some market segments connectivity is a high value resource for users. This is also the scenario found in educational institutions. In the education segment, providing Internet access for employees, students and visitors is paramount, since student support services are offered virtually, classes are increasingly interactive and digital, subjects are taught in a virtual format, or in a hybrid way (blended), making the internet resource, inside and outside the institution, highly relevant to the student learning cycle.
Within this scenario, it is possible to emphasize the increase in the need to provide wireless internet through Wi-Fi hotspotin educational institutions. Hotspot are found in most educational institutions, regardless of their size and level (basic or higher education.
Regarding the establishment of a structure for a Wi-Fi hotspot, the challenge begins, therefore, in the choice of equipment to be used and its physical layout so that it covers the entire perimeter of the institution. Having overcome this challenge it is necessary to look at other points, such as segmentation of networks, access policies, users in transit, visitors in the space of the institution, etc.
All of these choices will depend on the size of the educational institution, and how is it offered for customers (students) and other visitors. Generally, higher education institutions have a much larger movement of people and, therefore, the complexity to define the projects ends up being greater.
Before offering a Wi-Fi hotspot
Much of the student’s experience will be defined not by the way they enter the wireless network, but by the quality and stability of the network. Therefore, it is important to select a specialized company, with reputations and cases, to define what would be the most appropriate equipment to support the desired number of users.
The equipment will be of fundamental importance for the user experience. In smaller venues, private companies, or small schools, working with inferior equipment is a solution that meets the need of the environment. However, the same would be impossible to be supported in an environment with a reasonable number of concurrent users.
Therefore, the robustness of the equipment, both in terms of simultaneous user capacity, antennas, network segmentation and security aspects, must be taken into account.
For companies and institutions that also offer the use of the wireless network for corporate purposes, through an isolated segment or network (but under the same equipment), this becomes even more critical because poor quality equipment automatically affects productivity of its employees.
In addition to the use of appropriate equipment for each reality of educational institution, you should invest time to establish the volume of equipment needed to meet the demands of accesses of students and other users of the Wi-Fi network. Draw the physical environments of the institution and use them as reference to position the equipment, aiming at full coverage of the environments.
Another important tip is the forecast of growth in the number of accesses to the Wi-Fi hotspot. Use a comfortable margin and predict the growth of these accesses, so that it is not necessary to reorganize the network structure in a short time. Still regarding the definition of equipment and their quantification, I carefully evaluated environments for events, since these may require larger numbers of simultaneous accesses, seasonally.
Finally, do not forget to count simultaneous accesses of students and other collaborators. Nowadays it is quite common for users to access simultaneously internet through notebooks and cell phones, directly affecting the measurement of the structure destined for the institution’s Wi-Fi hotspot.
Thus, long before offering the access, in the design stage, be surrounded by companies and professionals duly qualified to understand the needs and offer scalability and security to the wireless environment, meeting the purpose of the institution.
Admission to the Wi-Fi network
The logical definition of how the network will work is also very important, especially with respect to security and availability. If there are uses for different purposes, it is important that wireless devices offer multiple network resources and VLAN segmentation, otherwise, physically all accesses would be concentrated in the same network and could generate great inconvenience.
If the network will attend students, teachers and staff of the institution and there is distinction in the types of access, make the appropriate segmentation by networks, and put different layers of security, according to each need.
For example, a network of employees may be on conditional authentication for credentials already used for other purposes within the institution, such as the academic system or other reference base. The same can be applied to teachers, avoiding shared keys between users. In these cases, 802.1x is a safe and highly indicated resource.
For a student’s network, an authenticated access can be offered through Captive Portal, with registration information validated, also allowing the creation of new users, facilitating the access management. The institution may also create a specific network to provide access to visitors, if deemed necessary.
Definitions of how many networks will be offered, what are the purposes, whether or not they will be segmented, what security criteria will be adopted, is a highly important step to success. Create a checklist with the vendor so you do not leave any items out of planning.
Hotspot for students and visitors
Once the purpose, equipment, scope and other items are aligned, it is time to define how the students and visitors will be admitted to the institution’s Wi-Fi network.
Hotspotis a network, generally wireless, that offers free or paid access to the internet, using the most varied devices. It is recommended that these networks have some means of identifying their users, to avoid undue access.
To meet these types of demands, it was created the concept of Captive Portal. This feature is responsible for redirecting accesses through a wireless network (usually without a password) to a webpage, with instructions for allowing the internet access.
The website to which users are redirected may also contain a registration form, integration with social networks, or other systems used by the educational institution. This page may also contain information about network access guidelines and other data relevant to users and institution.
It is very important that during the registration phase, when entering these networks, it is collected a little deeper information about the user, facilitating their identification in case of need to retrieve access logs.
In this way, every time the user accesses the internet, the logs will be duly registered and can be consulted whenever necessary. Because access is free and its networks accessed by many users, it is common for these networks to be used for illicit activities.
The importance of a policy in hotspots
Although hotspots are generally public networks for Internet access, it is of the utmost importance that they be regulated by a highly personalized access policy. This need is evidenced in institutions that work at different levels of education, reaching students of different age groups.
For example, when offering access to students, highlight websites that should have limited access in order to avoid problems, including them in the policy of Wi-Fi hotspot. Websites that should have restricted access are adult content, controlled drugs, financial institutions, websites associated to malware, cracking, and other pages. In addition to listing these websites in the policy, do not forget to apply a security solution that enables the implementation of controls, bringing access compliance to the hotspot policy. A good option in this regard is to integrate the educational institution’s hotspot with a web content filtering solution.
This ensures that, although offering public access, it will be minimally controlled, ensuring adherence to the purposes of the educational institution.
Therefore, before providing Wi-Fi access for students and other employees, seek to gather all the information necessary to ensure proper use, not making a noble attitude of increase inclusion in the teaching environment bring problems to the image of the institution.
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