NZ Ministry of Education to roll out ultra-fast broadband for schools

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education will invest $28 million to upgrade primary and secondary schools to Wi-Fi 6 capability, deploying up to 38,000 new Wi-Fi access points and 12,000 multi-gigabit switches.

The project is being rolled out under the auspices of New Zealand’s ‘Network for Learning’ (N4L) initiative, a managed network that enables schools to more readily access the internet and integrate digital technologies into the curriculum.

The N4L’s managed network supports more than 800,000 users while delivering connectivity for 2,400 schools across metropolitan and regional areas.

Launched in May 2020, the N4L is backed by the Wi-Fi 6 industry standard, provisioned to support “hundreds or thousands of connected devices” on the same network with significantly improved data transfer rates over the previous standard. Wi-Fi 6 is being adopted by suppliers worldwide in preparation for an explosion of internet of things (IoT) technologies.

Speeds on Wi-Fi 6 are clocked at 9.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps), a nearly three-fold jump on the 3.5 Gbps delivered under Wi-Fi 5. This enables traffic to be split between a dedicated IoT network whilst still supporting faster speed for other interconnected devices.

In an education setting, according to the N4L, Wi-Fi 6 would enable schools to support multiple devices at dispersed sites. Additionally, this capacity boost would support bandwidth-hungry teaching platforms, like virtual reality.

Certified last year by the global Wi-Fi Alliance, the Standard 6 would further support a diverse set of devices and applications – from those requiring peak performance in more demanding environments to those requiring low power and low latency in smart homes or within the industrial IoT settings.

Unlocking the power of wireless connectivity

In an official statement, N4L’s chief executive Larrie Moore said the latest upgrade would help deliver the “power of wireless connectivity for schools”, particularly as more devices and apps are integrated into the dispersed school network.

According to Moore, a fully integrated network removes the burden on schools to monitor, maintain, and manage their networks.

He noted that next-generation wireless connectivity, supported by Wi-Fi 6, enabled teachers and students to use the internet seamlessly, without worrying about the number of devices being used at any one time or types of online learning being considered.

Kim Shannon, head of education infrastructure service at the MoE, said the Ministry wanted to equip students with the right skills through the expanded use of digital technologies and high-speed, fast-access wireless connectivity.

“Looking to the future, educators have the opportunity to redefine how we communicate and collaborate,” he said.

The Ministry of Education’s Wi-Fi project has been awarded to network supplier Commscope, with the vendor tasked with upgrading 2,500 schools to Wi-Fi 6 capability.

The rollout is designed to meet anticipated growth in demand for video streaming and cloud-based educational services within schools, according to the MoE.

The supplier, working in partnership with New Zealand’s N4L, will also be tasked with migrating schools onto its single network management platform.

Migrating to ultra-fast broadband

Broadly, the MoE’s wireless connectivity program has helped schools take advantage of ultra-fast broadband connections, together with providing a more flexible teaching environment.

Earlier, the MoE’s ‘ICT Infrastructure for Schools’ Operations Manual said the Government wanted to equip 97.7 per cent of schools and 99.9 per cent of learners with access to ultra-fast broadband.

Ultra-fast broadband is defined as supporting speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

“The Government has a strategic objective to ensure that schools can take full advantage of learning methods,” the MoE said, noting learners needed better preparation to work with emerging technologies in a hyper-connected world.

The MoE’s wireless guidelines have supported the School Network Upgrade Project (SNUP), completed in 2016. The project provided ICT infrastructure to schools, together with high-speed internet access.

As schools transition to a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ environment, access to wireless technology would strengthen learning, and adapt to a mobile communication environment, the MoE said.

The Ministry noted that future installations would offer schools better broadband connectivity, together with better integration between the fixed cable and wireless network infrastructure.