Monday, March 25, 2013

Bandwidth Boosting: APS increasing Internet speed throughout district

APS Technology Director Joey Andrews prepares equipment for an upcoming upgrade that will significantly boost the district's bandwidth.

Technology in Arkadelphia Public School classrooms grows in importance and prevalence every year. Use of computers, tablets and smartphones is commonplace and increases the need for high capacity, dependable Internet service throughout the district. An upgrade currently underway, and scheduled to be completed in July, will increase APS’s Internet service capacity, or bandwidth, providing an additional 90 megabytes per second of transmission speed.

“This upgrade puts in place top notch equipment,” District Technology Director Joey Andrews said. “I am very confident that this will provide the bandwidth needs of our entire district for a long time. There isn’t a better service anywhere on the horizon.”

Approximately two years ago, APS upgraded their existing Internet service to two, residential DSL lines, which provided sufficient bandwidth for staff computers and school computer labs at a time when Internet and instruction were not as closely related as they are now.

“We were beginning to bump into some limitations with our DSL service,” Andrews said. “We were looking at 30 MB of download and 8 MB of upload, and that was on a good day.”

APS’s Technology Department is working to make certain the district’s technological challenges are met. Such challenges include Arkadelphia High School creating a “Bring your own device” policy for students, the implementation of New Tech which includes every AHS student receiving a school-issued laptop within the next three years and an education model that relies heavily on students having constant internet access for e-mail and research, and an increasing use of “C.O.W.’s,” (computers on wheels) which are essentially portable computer labs.

The quadrupled, 120 MB download rate through Metro Ethernet is a combination of 100 MB from Windstream and 20 MB from AT&T. Andrews expects the entire upgrade to be completed by the end of July.

“There should be substantial improvements by April 1, and that is 30 days ahead of our initial schedule,” Andrews said.

The additional bandwidth will benefit the entire district, as the gains in Internet capacity will improve speed and reliability in every APS facility.

“This will resolve a lot of our Internet network issues, like being able to stream media much easier, facilitate online testing, and manage our off-site, or cloud, storage of data,” Andrews said. “The accuracy increases a lot too, which means that this bandwidth is guaranteed from the providers. Our prior system could not guarantee bandwidth. Lightning [electricity] does not travel down these new fiber lines either, so that will eliminate a lot of weather-related equipment shutdowns.”

Workers bore underneath the parking lot at Goza Middle School to install the conduit that will house the fiber optic  line for the district's improved Internet service.
APS is one of the first districts in the region to move to such an advanced system.

“We are probably the smallest district to receive this sort of bandwidth,” Andrews said. “Lake Hamilton upgraded to a similar service last year, but this type of upgrade is not yet commonplace. We are a technology rich district and this will put us on an a level of several 6 and 7A schools, as well as the local universities.”

Also being improved is the district’s Wi-Fi infrastructure. Though related, the demands on Internet bandwidth, and the demands on Wi-Fi are two completely different hurdles. The Metro Ethernet system is the primary delivery of Internet to the district, and the Wi-Fi provides the couplings through which individual wireless enabled devices are linked. Andrews said the new Aerohives will be piloted at AHS, given the amount of wireless devices currently in use there.

“Aerohives are the choice for wireless systems,” Andrews said. “There are almost no capacity issues and they have come highly recommended from other large, local institutions.”

Andrews and his staff will be conducting test runs with the AHS campus as the equipment arrives.

“The high school is testing this new wireless system as a future replacement for the entire district,” Andrews said.

By Sean Ruggles, APS Communications Director

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