Ontario school board tests ProCurve wireless access point

A Toronto-area school board is using wireless equipment meeting the yet-to-be ratified 802.11n specification for both Internet access and internal communications.

The Halton Catholic District School Board, which operates 49 schools in the Ontario cities of Burlington, Oakville and Milton (plus the surrounding region), is testing a ProCurve MSM422 Access Point, made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett Packard Development Company L.P.

“We have one right now that we are experimenting with and figuring out the best point of attack to see how they fit into our infrastructure,” said Bill Cripps, the board’s manager of technical services. The board also has about 200 ProCurve 420 wireless access points at its schools.

Cripps said the board is using wireless mainly to connect notebook PCs. The schools have “travelling laptop carts” for classrooms, which include access points. Some teachers, and even students, are bringing laptops into the classroom.

“We’ve seen a lot of the iPods and various other devices floating on that public wireless network,” he said, adding for internal communications, the board uses 802.1x security.

HP’s MSM422 AP is a multiservice mobility access point which HP says meets the 802.11n Draft 2.0 specifications. It is also compliant with 802.11a, b and g gear.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11n standard, which is based on multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) technology, has been in the works for nearly five years. In early 2005, the 802.11 task group was given proposals from three groups of vendors, known as the TGn Sync, Worldwide Spectrum Efficiency (WWiSE) and MITMOT.

A year later, the IEEE’s Task group N voted to change the proposal to allow throughput of up to 600 Megabits per second.

Task Group N of the IEEE met in Vancouver last month to vote on version 8.0.

Eighty per cent voted to approve it but they also submitted 77 suggestions as to how the standard could be improved, so the committee is authorized to create version 9.0 of the draft, which they will vote on next month.

The committee has been meeting every two months since January, 2006.

Cripps is not concerned the final version of 802.11n may be different.

“For how we’re seeing more and more devices now that are coming in our schools that are n-compliant as they claim,” he said. “Even though there’s no standard ratified, we know we have to start now and we really believe that ProCurve is going to meet and exceed a lot of those standards towards the n standard”

Other Canadian users of 802.11n wireless gear include the Central East Community Care Access Centre in Peterborough, Ont., Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport and Montreal-based Concordia University.

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Cautious about 802.11n

In addition to HP, Cisco and Apple are using the 802.11n draft standard in their products.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco’s Aironet 1250 Series access points are n-compliant, and Apple Inc. recently updated its Airport Extreme Base Station.

The AirPort Extreme, which was first introduced in 2007, now has firmware that lets MobileMe users connect over the Internet to any drive plugged into the USB port on the back of the base station.

The latest version also has two Wi-Fi radios which can setup two different 802.11n networks. One radio can be used for a 5GHz-band network only for newer Macs, and the other can be used for a 2.4GHz-band network required for older devices that use 802.11b and 802.11g protocols. 802.11n can use either band. Computers, iPhones, and other devices connect to whichever network they are compatible with. That means devices which include support for the fast 5GHz-band will always use that band when appropriate.

Previous generations of AirPort Extremes included one radio that was capable of broadcasting either a 2.4GHz or 5GHz network, but not both at once.

With files from Scott McNulty