The Beacon

CommScope: Wi-Fi® is key to education’s digital transformation

Richard Nedwich

Wi-Fi Alliance® recently spoke with Rich Nedwich, Worldwide Director of Education for CommScope, about CommScope’s project in progress with New Zealand’s Ministry of Education, and how Wi‑Fi® can help educational institutions now and in the future.

CommScope has taken on a huge project with New Zealand’s Ministry of Education. Can you describe the project?

We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Education to help in their digital transformation goals. The Ministry had already had experience in having to respond to disaster with the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. The infrastructure and school buildings were destroyed. Instead of rebuilding the same structure and systems, the Ministry of Education decided to begin their digital transformation then. Out of the disaster, they created something innovative. As such, when the COVID pandemic hit New Zealand’s shores, the Ministry was able to quickly move to a remote learning scenario. Now they want to prepare to re-emerge and adapt to a new environment that includes social distancing, distance learning, and digital equity.

What they want is for their internal service provider arm, Network for Learning (N4L), to deploy and manage a student-focused network that provided equitable connectivity across all schools, regardless of socioeconomic status. They want it to be well-protected, and they want onsite support. CommScope was able to meet all of these requirements and determined the best way to achieve the Ministry’s goals for this network is through Wi-Fi 6 for reliably fast connections which enable new ways of teaching and learning, including more use of video for curriculum and collaboration.

As N4L enthused to their school community, “We’re really excited about the upgrade as it means your school Wi-Fi will be more reliable and secure. More student devices will be able to simultaneously connect and stream content, without impacting your network’s performance.”

What is the scope and timeline of the project?

The scope of this undertaking is huge (see image): CommScope is rolling out a projected 38,000 indoor access point (AP) Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 network using RUCKUS and CommScope equipment. This network will be phased in over the next four years. First, we completed a 50-school pilot program.

Just to clarify the stats a bit more:

  • 52 schools deployed to date (each are single site schools)
  • 452 Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 APs
  • 103 multigigabit edge switches
  • 13 schools currently using RUCKUS Cloudpath security and policy management platform
  • N4L has now deployed 2 vSZ clusters (one Auckland and one in Christchurch)

The next 12-18 months will involve an upgrade of about 400 more schools to Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6. From there, we will conduct a steady ramp up until all 2,500 schools are upgraded and centrally managed with lasting and secure connections.

New Zealand Wi-Fi education project to serve nearly 1 million users; image courtesy CommScope

What benefits or value do you see Wi-Fi adding to this project?

Wi-Fi is a good fit for the main project goals, which include:

  • Equitable access for all students in all schools
  • Reliably fast connectivity for digital learning and online exams
  • More devices used each year (1:1 computing, do not share devices)
  • Keep up with growing bandwidth demand (30% YoY)
  • More video use in curriculum and distance learning
  • Easy secure access for students and faculty
  • Seamless roaming between school sites
  • Future-proof network for 5+ years

Device use and Wi-Fi use in educational institutions have been on the rise for many years. The advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic brings to the forefront the need for even more devices in schools. Gone for now are the days where multiple students could, or should, share a Chromebook from a computer cart. In addition to new innovations in education that allow for dynamic learning, such as augmented and virtual reality and connected school equipment like whiteboards and microscopes, each student needs a device with internet access. While it may cost more at first, it will help with student wellness by limiting the spread of germs, viruses, and disease.

In addition to using more devices, while video traffic has also been on the rise for years, these new educational scenarios – which mix distance learning with in-person classes, as well as asynchronous and synchronous learning – will create even more traffic.  Additionally, online testing will be required where reliable and uninterrupted connectivity is a necessity. We are going to be asking a lot of Wi-Fi and our networks in general in the coming years, but compared to other technologies, it is really the only option. Especially with the newest generation, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi brings secure connectivity, high data rates, increased capacity, and the flexibility needed for a new, dynamic educational landscape. As students transition back to a new school reality, with flexible learning spaces, outdoor learning spaces and other changes, Wi-Fi is the foundation through which students will connect with their teachers, their peers, and their coursework.

Wi-Fi evolves to improve the user experience, increasing in reliability, capacity, spectral management, and security. As such, it provides the future-proof standards-based platform the Ministry of Education was looking for to support a four year deployment plan, and beyond.

CommScope feels confident that Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 equipment with Wi-Fi CERTIFIED WPA3 security positions any educational institution to meet the changing needs in education for the foreseeable future.

Are there any other Wi-Fi Alliance programs or technologies being leveraged by CommScope?

Yes, we are market leaders in the commercial introduction of both Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint® and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™. RUCKUS* devices have supported Passpoint® since 2013, and RUCKUS was the first company to certify for the 2018 update of Wi-Fi Vantage™, which delivers a much better user experience in managed networks by bundling Passpoint with the capabilities of Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Agile Multiband™ and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Optimized Connectivity™ certifications. The single Wi-Fi Vantage certification makes it much easier for us to introduce products to the market that provide high quality experiences for users in hotels, shopping malls, event venues – anywhere that has Wi-Fi Vantage infrastructure.

The APs being used for the Ministry of Education project in New Zealand are not only Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6, but also certified for WPA3™ and Wi-Fi Vantage, which includes Passpoint, Wi-Fi Agile Multiband™, and Wi-Fi Optimized Connectivity™.

Please keep us updated on the progress of the education project in New Zealand. Is there anything else you would like to add?

We are excited to be chosen by the Ministry of Education of New Zealand and working with N4L to create their student-centered network for 2,500 schools. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing what the teachers are able to achieve when connectivity is truly an enabler of learning, rather than a challenge. Whether it’s VR-based learning, or eSports, or collaborative discussions across school sites, or even country borders – the transition to digital learning in New Zealand is well underway with Wi-Fi 6 delivering reliably fast and strong connections.

* CommScope acquired RUCKUS in 2019


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Richard Nedwich

Richard has worked in the wireless industry since 2000, including product and marketing management roles at Motorola, Meru Networks, Fortinet and Ruckus. As a thought leader, Richard has been a public speaker and blogger on global K-20 education technology and Wi-Fi for the past 10 years.