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Apple’s new iOS 8 release has big potential for education, but school networks must be prepared, experts say

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But as most school IT leaders will agree, iOS 7 posed problems for school networks, in many cases leveling those networks as students attempted to update at least one, and often more than one, device on their school’s network.

Apple has a huge stake in the education market, and iOS 8 promises some next-level features for educators and students.

A major feature, called “extensibility,” enables apps to work together better and share more information. According to Business Insider, this means less time switching between apps and more time for productivity.

Extensibility, coupled with other iOS 8 features, promise to put the latest upgrade at the top of Apple users’ priorities.

How can school IT leaders prepare school networks for the upgrade?

(Next page: Important steps schools can take to prepare)

Schools—especially those with bring-your-own-device policies—should first of all be aware of the iOS 8 upgrade and when it is set for release (so far, September 9 and 16 are likely dates), said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing at Xirrus, a wireless network management company.

Knowing the potential impact on Wi-Fi networks is essential.

“Students have multiple devices now, and we see huge densities that didn’t exist a year ago, and now we’re going to have this upgrade,” Miller said. “It saturates an already-hampered network.”

Then, school IT leaders must decide how they want to handle the update, because students will most certainly want to update their devices whenever the upgrade is made available. One option, Miller said, is to prevent iOS 8 upgrades between certain hours—for instance, preventing upgrades during regular school hours, but allowing them before and after school hours, when there is likely to be less demand on school networks. Another option is to prevent it altogether, in which case most students will update on their home networks or find free Wi-Fi networks that can support the upgrade. Or, IT staff might limit each device’s download speeds.

“The problem you get with wireless is that, from a tech perspective, it’s a shared medium, so you’re going to have 20-30 kids sharing all that bandwidth,” Miller said.

Once school IT staff identify how they want to approach the iOS 8 update, they should determine if they have the capability to enforce such an approach—and if they don’t, they might want to investigate how to put that capability or solution in place.

Finally, this isn’t the last challenge school networks will face, so IT leaders should remain vigilant and in-the-know.

“In tandem with this, there’s the anticipation of the iPhone 6 and newer tablets, as well as an upgrade to 802.11ac,” Miller said. “Devices will get faster, and they’ll start showing up on school networks as well—they’ll potentially use more data, because they’re better and faster.”

This is an ongoing trend, he added–more devices per person, each device faster, consuming more and larger applications.

“This ongoing onslaught of elements is adding to the capacity challenge that already exists,” Miller said. “Not a lot of schools can buy ahead for five years—they incrementally add as they go, but you have to think about these events.”

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Laura Ascione

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