John Gage got one thing dead on. Connectivity to the network is what makes modern computing experiences so powerful. Be it creating content through Google Apps, collaborating on a Prezi, syncing through DropBox, video Skype, Siri, backing up your tablet to the cloud or even talking on a telephone, the network is what makes all this sing. In years past, one could plug their computer into a network jack and get plenty of local throughput. Things have changed. The explosion of WiFi-only devices that are excellent at content consumption (ie. needing lots of bandwidth) have increased to the point where in some school environments there are an average of three devices per person. And, boarding schools have an even more difficult situation on their hands with heavy network usage migrating throughout the campus at all hours of the day and night with highly localized needs – although preferably not too late at night.
With these usage patterns in mind, Cisco has just released their Aironet 3600 Series Access Point (AP) antenna. The AP has four physical antennas which use a MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) configuration allowing for increased throughput. Additionally, the antenna and software configuration allows for dynamically beamshaping the stream of data to extend the range of the network. Clients with MIMO capabilities (laptops, etc.) can take full advantage of the increased throughput, but even clients with single antennas (smartphones, etc.) will benefit from the shaped beams for extended range. The antennas aren’t IEEE 802.11ac compliant (the standard hasn’t even been ratified yet) but as these antennas are also designed to be field upgradable with expansion cards, they will theoretically be able to take advantage of the new standard when it becomes available. Naturally, these antennas are not cheap (about USD 1,600 per antenna), but for schools struggling under a profusion of mobile devices, these might just help ease their current connectivity problems.