10 steps for bringing connectivity home

Here's how a large Texas district developed iConnect, an innovative program that extends district-sponsored Wi-Fi access to underserved students where they live

Step 5: Leverage your technology partners’ breadth and depth of expertise
One expectation for our technology partners was committing professional resources to our planning and deployment team, which both Layer 3 and Aruba supplied. Their assistance proved vital to devising our ultimate technology strategy as well as the tasks related to getting it done. For example, we experienced approval roadblocks for mounting our equipment on an appropriate communications tower located near one of our elementary schools. Layer 3 obtained the needed approvals within a matter of hours.

Step 6: Piggyback on existing LTE networks for transmitting data to wireless APs
To make iConnect affordable and eliminate various data-transit challenges, our technology partners developed a plan to use LTE cellular signals as the transmission mechanism. This was accomplished by mounting hardened LAN to 4G WAN routers on a tower at one of our elementary schools and on a utility pole at the mobile home park. The selected router was designed for use in vehicles such as police cars and ambulances. For the fast, reliable and cost-effective Wi-Fi at the mobile home park, Aruba conducted a site survey and suggested placing four high-performance 802.11ac outdoor access points strategically around the site.

Step 7: Go solar to power the equipment
As the router and Wi-Fi APs require power, we settled on a solar solution. It included a battery capable of supplying power for three days, 24/7, should there be insufficient solar gain for a daily recharge. The solution also included a cabinet for the LAN to 4G router and a PoE+ injector to power the Wi-Fi APs.

Step 8: Extend secure enterprise access to your remote users
For data security, our selected solutions enabled building a VPN tunnel to our district’s mobility controller through the LAN to 4G router. This permitted us to extend the capabilities of our existing security and access-management solutions to mobile home park users, giving them the same rights as they enjoyed at school and making experiences seamless regardless of role.

Step 9: Apply for an expansion grant in tandem with the inaugural implementation
As plans for the mobile home park project progressed, we also kicked off a grant initiative to similarly equip other underserved communities. Points in our favor included the extensive technology research we conducted and the willingness to use our own funds for the initial iConnect deployment. Just prior to the mobile home park rollout, we were awarded the grant.

Step 10: Sponsor a community celebration
As our team interacted with the mobile home park staff during the course of the initiative, it became clear we needed a mechanism for encouraging usage. Eventually, we decided on a Neighborhood Festival to coincide with completing the installation. In addition to picnic food, we set up multiple tables for demonstrating the many fun learning apps to parents and students.

Making the community feel special and recognized is contributing to strong usage statistics. The Cypress Fairbanks team is looking forward to the start of the 2018-2019 school year to assess the increase in academic achievement as a result of students having increased connectivity at home.

To learn more about our initiative, including more tips for success, check out this presentation: Wireless Connectivity for the Tanner Mobile Home Park Completed in Time for the Neighborhood Celebration.

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