Wireless networking is catching on like wildfire in school systems for a number of reasons. One, the average school building in America is 45 years old. Some are even older. As a result, you can't run cabling through the walls. Some are historic buildings that you just can't damage. Others are made of solid concrete. And still others are managing asbestos issues, taking great care not to disturb the dormant building material.
Wireless also solves overcrowding and bandwidth problems. Some schools don't have the room for computer labs, so they're going wireless and making their computer labs mobile. This isn't limited to the
K-12 market, either. Bob Stegner, vice president of channel development at distributor Ingram Micro, Santa Ana, Calif., says mobile computer labs are making inroads in colleges, as well.
Some schools are reducing bottlenecks in their systems by getting students off their cabled networks and onto wireless, even equipping them with laptops or handhelds of their own.
Maine is one example. If the Maine legislature approves the release of needed funds, every seventh-grader in the state could soon have a laptop with an embedded wireless solution.
You may, however, find some stiff competition in the wireless space coming from the very vendors you'd otherwise turn to for products. Apple, Compaq, Dell and Gateway products are popular in school districts, and many schools like to deal directly with the vendor on their product purchases. But even Dell brings in VARs when the district needs more than a pure product purchase (see "Plano Independent School District," page 28).
So, when it comes to wireless, despite the competition, VAR opportunities abound. "Once a school district starts a relationship with a reseller, my experience has been that the opportunity becomes open-ended," Westcon's Sheps says. "School administrators are a stable community, and as long as we continue to make children, [education will be a recession-proof industry."
As our nation's schools continue to age, they are also being rebuilt. America builds some 1,800 new school buildings a year. But in the last presidential election, both candidates acknowledged the need to build at least 3,500 schools per year. "You're looking at a market with a long-term, stable buying base," Sheps points out.
In Knoxville, the University of Tennessee has just finished a 1,400-access point installation covering nearly 15 million square feet. Dewitt Latimer, Ph.D., the executive director of statewide IT infrastructure at the University of Tennessee, says the school wanted to be at the bleeding edge of information technology integration in its curriculum and research programs. The project was completed in nine months using Avaya's products. Installing the wireless network, Latimer says, has freed the university's students to study where and when they like. The school currently requires its MBA candidates to provide their own laptops, but provides laptops in its instructional technology group for faculty to use in their teaching. Additionally, the university's library is investigating a laptop check-out program.