SPRING HILL SCHOOLS UTILIZE PORTABLE ROUTER IN-A-BOX
To keep up with the technical advancements of modern education practices, Spring Hill Schools (SHS) leveraged Cradlepoint’s wireless solutions to improve on opportunities such as delivering instructional content online, putting mobile devices in the hands of students, and providing wireless Internet access on school buses, in classrooms, at home activities, and away events.
After investigating wireless solutions, SHS ultimately decided to install Cradlepoint NetCloud Service for branch for portable boxes, with plans to add more as use increases — saving SHS valuable school funds by not having to install and maintain a new network. The service includes extensive cloud functionality, a purpose-built primary router, 24x7 support, and a limited lifetime warranty. SHS also utilizes Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager to quickly locate the devices and check the status as well as adjust functionality.
SHS currently has an estimated 3,000 students enrolled in grades K-12. It is considered one of the fastest-growing districts in Kansas and is expecting to add an additional 1,400 students in the next four to five years.
SHS already provides a MacBook for every student in grades 6 through 12, and much of the curriculum is online, making WiFi access a clear next step.
SHS needed a portable wireless network that could be set up in different locations, at any time, and be easily connected through either a wired or LTE-based WAN and work in tandem with its unlimited data usage plan.
The portable wireless solution also needed to be used by staff — in classrooms for projects and as a backup network, and with students — for long bus rides to activities, games, and field trips. A wireless Internet connection was also becoming necessary at home sporting events.
The search for a wireless solution began with the SHS bus provider. SHS quickly discovered that the monthly fees the bus provider wanted to charge for the WiFi and installation costs were too high. They also would have only been able to provide WiFi on a few buses, with no guarantee that SHS would always have a bus with WiFi available.
SHS ultimately decided to deploy Cradlepoint NetCloud Service for branch, including routing, WAN link termination and traffic management, a firewall, and cloud configuration and troubleshooting, all delivered via a purpose-built primary router with embedded LTE to quickly, flexibly, and reliably connect wherever and whenever.
The portable boxes give SHS the ability to add WiFi to any bus, classroom, or event. The box is merely carried onto whichever bus needs a wireless connection at that time. Furthermore, the ability to have network access anywhere desired provided not only network flexibility but cost savings.
“The solution has saved SHS thousands of dollars,” said Elliott. “There was no need to run fiber through the ground, and we don’t have maintenance or replacement costs.”
To assist with the portability of the wireless network-in-abox, SHS can simply go into the cloud interface, NetCloud Manager, and quickly change the functionality and settings.
NetCloud Manager is also used to monitor the status of the routers, allowing the IT team to troubleshoot network issues without bringing the buses back to headquarters.
If there is a network outage, SHS can take one of the boxes to the school office and allow the staff to stay connected for day-to-day operations — for important communications such as keeping in touch with student’s parents — even if the fiber to the building is cut. This also ensures students will not miss time on classroom assignments that require network access.
The emergency back-up network works as a safety feature, keeping students, school staff, and parents connected, and as a functionality feature, keeping operations up and running.
“With the amount of growth and construction going on around us,” said Elliott, “there’s a chance our wired line will eventually be hit. The time it takes to get the fiber repaired is the reason we needed to have this fallback plan in our back pocket.”
The flexibility and functionality of the portable router helps keep kids online and has expanded learning opportunities.
“The kids literally just need to be in range of the portable box and their devices will be connected,” said Elliott. “Connecting to the portable wireless network is completely seamless.”
Beyond using the portable boxes as a backup solution, they are also being used on buses during field trips, so the students can complete homework and participate in school activities while en route. Once at the location, the staff can use it to stay in contact with the school, and at sporting events coaches can utilize the connection for online stat taking and game updates.
“The form factor, size, portability, and the fact that our school network can go wherever we take the portable routers is huge. Whether it’s for voice communication, data communication, or remote management of our devices, it’s been a great solution for us. All you have to do is turn it on,” said Elliott.
Another use case that SHS hadn’t anticipated is using the portable router to create a separate network in classrooms to assist with school projects, such as working on computers or using raspberry pi’s that need network access but cannot risk connecting to the internal network.
These projects are a perfect opportunity to use one of the portable router boxes in the classroom to implement an air-gapped network for the duration of the project — all without putting the internal network at risk.
With a built-in firewall and cloud-managed content filtering, this solution provides the same level of security the school would expect from its primary network.
“You can’t put a price on the ease of management,” said Elliott. “It would be difficult to have another network system that would need to be maintained or watched over to be sure that the filters and restrictions are working correctly.”
SHS plans to expand its portable networking system as its student population increases and as more connected technologies are introduced.
“We will be buying more solutions as they start taking off within our school,” said Elliot. "Coaches are seeing its potential and are using it during games and on the bus trips, and teachers are discovering how to integrate the portable router into more projects.”