back to article What kid uses wires? FCC supremo angry that US classrooms are filled with unused RJ45 ports

The head of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is calling on US lawmakers to change the way internet connectivity is funded and deployed in schools. Speaking at a legislative conference, Tom Wheeler – chairman of the watchdog – said the E-Rate program that supplies communications gear to schools and libraries in …

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I have to wonder how a whole classroom (in fact, a whole school) of people on wifi connections is going to enhance anything "high speed"? Well, asides the rotation of water molecules in the immediate vicinity.

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So he's saying wired ethernet is slower than wireless? Not in my experience. The point about all those jack being kind of useless if everyone is using tablets is a fair on though.

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That's not what he's saying

He's saying that wired connections are mostly pointless because most students are using devices wirelessly (whether or not they have a way to plug them in via a wire) and because of the money being wasted on putting in wired ports that aren't needed/used, they're not able to spend enough on decent wireless OR on sufficient external bandwidth to reach beyond the wireless network to whatever the students are needing to access (district wide instructional server, internet, whatever)

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Old Handle

"So he's saying wired ethernet is slower than wireless?"

No, and I'm sorry if I wasn't able to make that clear enough. The broadband speed and the Wi-Fi are two separate things. He's upset that all this money is going into wired networks when students and staff prefer to use wireless devices wherever they want.

Then, even once they're connected, getting out to the internet is a PITA anyway.

I'm sorry this isn't clear enough.

C.

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"So he's saying wired ethernet is slower than wireless? Not in my experience. The point about all those jack being kind of useless if everyone is using tablets is a fair on though."

Well they're probably still using 10baseT. Otherwise why not just plug in a few wireless access points?

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Re: Old Handle

There's an assumption that all those ethernet ports aren't years old.

The wireless revolution has only occurred in the last 3-5 years - and as others have pointed out, a bunch of wireless devices in a small area doesn't usually result in happy bunnies.

Most wifi deployments more than 3-5 years old were never envisioned as having to cope with the density of devices seen now. The network I supervise has upwards of 200 connections on a system laid out in 2005 to provide connectivity to 15-20 (visitors plus roving laptops).

Even if it's upgraded to dualband access points in every office/meeting room (the current plan) I still have my doubts about its ability to provide decent speed when everyone in a meeting tries to hit the intahwebz at the same time.

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What is he saying?

"Wheeler charges that the system is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars per year by funding outdated projects that are rarely used."

I get that half the budget is going to something other than speed, but don't believe that a wall of rj45 plugs would account for as much as he implies. Also, if he wants wireless, does he really think that is all that expensive? Surely a single access point in each classroom would do the trick, and even the teacher could set that up.

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Re: What is he saying?

No, it is more than likely something the teacher in the classroom COULDN'T set it up. Deploying access points in a congested environment requires things such as channel frequency coordination, something that inexpensive access points deployed by non-network engineering types cannot do. It is also a good idea to keep the student and administrative traffic on separate VLANs - again something that a cheap access point deployed by an untrained teacher won't be able to do.

Of course, deploying a wireless zone of overlapping, non-interfering access points requires a bit of engineering - and also requires the use of that CAT5 jacks and cabling that he thinks are worthless.

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Re: What is he saying?

I get what you're saying Donn, though presumably an engineering type can figure out a way to do this that wouldn't be hard, and would be suitable for most schools. That said, I can actually imagine that the cost could indeed be huge because the school system wouldn't hire a competent engineer, but rather a very large company where the same engineer could do the work under the supervision of a large staff of three lettered desk jobs. I'm thinking of the Canadian government's recent plan to set up a new e-mail system at the cost of over $1300 per address.

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Re: What is he saying?

Decent wireless equipment for congested areas, such as conferences, offices and educational campuses run into 4 figures, just for the base stations, then you need to configure them properly, you'll need central administration of all of those access points, faultless handover, for the teacher and administration networks you will probably want to implement RADIUS or something similar.

Then you need the network scanning equipment to help find blackspots and congestion areas and areas where multiple bands are interferring with each other. Then you need to monitor traffic flow and reassess routing etc. depending on the time of day - during lessons, the workload is going to be more evenly distributed, at lunch time, the cafeteria is probably going to need a lot more bandwidth than the rest of the buildings put together...

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Re: What is he saying?

@ole Juule

though presumably an engineering type can figure out a way to do this that wouldn't be hard

BWAAAHAAAHAAHAAHAAAHAAHAAAAAHAAAAaaaaaahaaaaaahaahaahaaaa

I'm guessing you have very little experience with WLAN outside of a 2 room environment with a isp router.

Oh god the real complexities of wireless, calculating strength, interference, hand-off, user management, and in a school environment, the amount of abuse it will receive.......... the list is endless !!!! well almost

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Re: What is he saying?

School networks also require tight locking down. There needs to be lots of levels of security. In the UK it's definitely not BYOD, other than maybe on a carefully segregated "guest" connection - and that in a restricted area.

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Re: What is he saying?

"I get that half the budget is going to something other than speed, but don't believe that a wall of rj45 plugs would account for as much as he implies."

OK, 25 sockets per classroom, 30 classrooms, plus associated hubs and a small switch so that building could be fed into main campus network. Plus associated ring mains wiring in classrooms (60s building) and trips/switchboard on the assumption of mains powered PCs.

Anyone care to give us a ballpark figure? I imagine it is fairly high.

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Re: What is he saying?

nah, it just requires using clever smart products like Ubiquiti UniFi AP's that autocoordinate, instead of dodgy SOHO 'routers' or overpriced traditional Cisco enterprise kit.

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Re: What is he saying?

How to bypass the school's firewalls:

1: Switch off wifi

2 Fire up VPN

3: Surf pron in the cafeteria

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Re: What is he saying?

@ Lionel Baden

"I'm guessing you have very little experience with WLAN outside of a 2 room environment with a isp router."

You are correct in that I have little experience. However, my home environment does involve several floors and a number of buildings, but I do only use three routers to cover that. I have no idea what "a isp router" is.

I do think that one does not need to solve all problems in the same way and using the same technology. That is what usually happens when a contractor is brought in. They want to keep all the profit in house. For classroom connectivity (forget the cafeteria), you could reduce crosstalk between rooms by employing a second contractor - one to paint some walls with slightly conducting paint. Not the same contractor, so it won't happen. You can also reduce signal strength from the radios and place them in the middle of the room on the ceiling. I'm just suggesting that expensive and complicated solutions are not always in the interest of the client.

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If we follow the money...

From Wikipedia: Tom Wheeler is the current Chairman of the FCC. Prior to working at the FCC, Wheeler worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry.

I think most of us know wireless is dead dog slow compared to a 100-full wired connection...but he wants to push wireless now. See the title on why I think he is. And I daresay Congress wouldn't cut the wired funding but add to it for "more better" wireless.

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If only these portable devices had RJ45 jacks fitted...

At the very least, one might have expected that those who *could* plug in, *would* plug in. But perhaps it's far more important to be cool and wireless, or something?

A walk down any high street will show you how cluttered and busy - and therefore slow - unmanaged wireless networks are. Why doesn't the school's IT teaching include something about the technology of how it works, and why, in this classroom, it doesn't?

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Boffin

Re: If only these portable devices had RJ45 jacks fitted...

"At the very least, one might have expected that those who *could* plug in, *would* plug in."

@Neil Barnes

I'm a teacher in UK. Depends on classroom layout. Rows of desks or U shape desks mean cat5 cables across where people might want to move. Students would be using their kit during group work/activities so moving around might well be happening. The average teenager has a memory half-life measured in tens of seconds for instructions like 'check for cables before you walk anywhere'.

If the rooms had PC desks along the outside walls with sockets above them, then you may have a point.

PS: most UK FE Colleges have some kind of general wifi arrangements now. Detail varies from campus to campus. UKERNA provides bandwidth and it seems fairly fast in the two settings I teach in.

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Re: If only these portable devices had RJ45 jacks fitted...

@keithpeter

Well, yes, but yet in thousands of offices throughout the land, the amazingly difficult trick of getting the cable to the desk has been achieved...

Agreed, they could be moving around. As others have said (or at least implied), 5GHz wireless tends to stay in the same room as the access point, which at least simplifies channel allocation. But nonetheless, there is a serious point here: wireless is not the solution for high data rates with many mobile devices. Using a wired access point does at least reduce the RF clutter and provide a high-speed interface which the presence of everybody else's device causes - I would have expected some bright spark to have discovered this.

Though of course, since they tend not to believe in wired ethernet on even semiportable devices these days...

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Re: If only these portable devices had RJ45 jacks fitted...

"Well, yes, but yet in thousands of offices throughout the land, the amazingly difficult trick of getting the cable to the desk has been achieved..."

I'm very glad to hear that Neil.

Now, suppose we are talking about a 1960s era building with 30 classrooms. Each classroom has 25 single person desks measuring 60cm by 60cm together with a plastic stacking chair. Estates (aka caretakers) line these up in nice neat rows, usually two sets of four to each row then three rows with a naughty table in the front by the teacher's desk(*).

There is about 1m of space between the desks and the inside wall. The outside wall is floor to ceiling glass panels.

Now, how do we get network connections to those desks? And any idea of approximate budget? And installation time (Hint: putting in-floor sockets is going to mean taking pneumatic drills to the concrete).

Seriously: Tablets, phablets and phones tend not to come with Ethernet sockets, so we cope with wifi. I imagine that mobile phone data plans will be generous enough soon to just not bother even with wifi.

(*) I forgot to mention that the desks get moved around to different locations in the room - sometimes U shape, sometimes 'cafe style' four desks to a group. You can get PCs that fold down into a desk so you can have the display up and a computer room or the desk closed for 'normal' desks. Alas, the desks can't be moved so teachers hate these kinds of room.

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Re: If only these portable devices had RJ45 jacks fitted...

Indeed. It's the lack of wires on the device that's the issue, not the lack of places to plug them in - though it would be nice to have the option. But people don't know any better and have ended up with devices which are both fighting for congested spectrum/bandwidth and have no way of improving the issue. Though I suppose we're stuck with it now...

As it's forty years since I sat in a classroom, in nice neat rows, no talking or else, you'll have to excuse my lack of knowledge of current arrangements.

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When I were a lad ...

... hampered by "the three Rs", we managed to create teh IntraWebTubes.

Basic education does not require iFads/Fandroids.

Tom Wheeler really needs to try to understand the basics.

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Stick in the sand - Re: When I were a lad ...

"... hampered by "the three Rs", we managed to create teh IntraWebTubes."

Next week, I do my600BC Pythagoras' result lesson. Stick in the sand for diagrams (OK actually chalk on the car park tarmac but you get the idea). Length of rope with 12 knots. Measure how tall the building is with a stick stuck in the ground (needs a sunny day). No paper allowed, you have to remember the lot. It goes down a treat.

The bit you won't like is that students record bits with their phones (photos of shadows &c).

Coat icon: could be plan B given UK weather.

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Re: When I were a lad ...

The older I get, the more I agree with this. It seems the more we spend on tech in schools, the less the graduating class actually knows.

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Anonymous Coward

As if the current curriculum isn't dry enough. Lets add VLANs, data distribution etc to it ;)

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Use 5GHz band

Use one cheap 5GHz access point with DFS in each classroom. E.g the Deliberant APC-5Mi which costs less than £80. Sticking to 5GHz provides sufficient channels that the access points can do their own channel allocation without needing tedious manual allocation.

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He doesn't get it

The point is that the installers can gouge nicely on cheap, low quality cat5, ports etc. And take their sweet time on site too. How are they going to fleece people on wireless?

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Wires...

For most uses a classroom and lots of trailling wires don't mix.

Unless there are floor points ( and it sounds like these are all wall mounted ) the wired connections are of no use whatsoever.

UK schools have wireless connections.

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Re: Wires...

As noted above, doing it properly for a whole building like a school means passing every room with cable for backhaul. Whether a room has two (you'll have at least two networks) RJ-45s or twenty isn't that relevant for costs. You then want to be able to have standardised access points that with (for teachers and staff at least) zero setup that can be plugged in to the cable and provide reasonably safe connections that play nicely across the building. AFAIK German universities have such setups which means visiting students simply signup with their existing credentials.

There are different ways to approach doing the actual work - it could be farmed off to a local ISP or network provider - but the equipment and planning are never going to be cheap.

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Childcatcher

Won't somebody please think of the children.....

What is all that wireless traffic doing to their brains and bodies. Studies have generally fallen on the side of "it's safe" to use a wireless device. But what if you multiply the dose by 30 people in a room. Then you up the power of the base station (and add more base stations) to handle the additional load.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I use wireless devices regularly. But I can see where this is going...

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If you "can see where this is going", would you give the rest of us some directions ...?

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Anonymous Coward

"Speaking at a legislative conference, Tom Wheeler – chairman of the watchdog – said the E-Rate program that supplies communications gear to schools and libraries in America should focus on replacing wired Ethernet in classrooms with Wi-Fi setups"

Until wireless power distribution is aced, all other wireless is pointless. You're still chained to the desk by the need for power.

So, lets waste millions on WiFi in classrooms, even tho the child needs to be sat at a desk and tethered by the power cord! The network connection is wireless tho! Great huh?

Simple people.

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Anonymous Coward

Uh, modern tablets (and some laptops) are more than capable of lasting a whole school day without power.

You at the back, do keep up.

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Power

Schools supplying laptops for classroom/desk work store them in secure cabinets with charge points for each one, which with any luck will be plugged in.

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Facepalm

What a complete retard

The fastest Wifi is not even close to Gigabit, say 300MBit, the bandwidth of the router will be shared with many users, will run far worse than wired Ethernet, with dire user bandwidth, and be far less reliable. I'm already maxing out Gigabit Ethernet at home for NAS1 to PC to NAS2 file transfers at about 50MByte/s (using Intel NIC cards), let-alone frankly obsolete 100Mbit Ethernet, so only put light use devices on WiFi, and even then, I see occasional persistent connection issues.

I'm really hoping the price of over 1 Gigabit PCIe NICs drops really fast, because they are currently stupid expensive, so I can't upgrade yet from already tired Gigabit Ethernet!

Of course the Elephant in the room for schools, is most don't make proper integrated disruptive use of them, because may are stuck in the old teaching model, so in a lot of cases these computers and support infrastructure are a complete waste of resources.

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Re: What a complete retard

"Of course the Elephant in the room for schools, is most don't make proper integrated disruptive use of [IT devices], because may are stuck in the old teaching model, so in a lot of cases these computers and support infrastructure are a complete waste of resources."

What is the new teaching model?

I'm interested in what you think a 'teaching model' is, and I'd like to see how you articulate your vision. I'm serious, you are, I assume, old enough to vote and pay taxes. You are therefore entitled to a view.

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I find it interesting that the assumption is made that "network connection" == "internet use" !

Seems the concept of having on-site servers for ... ooh dunno, how about school email, course work/lessons, students' own work, etc. Then having a wired connection will most definitely get you better results than fighting with hundreds of other pupils (and staff) for a few congested WiFi channels. At least, assuming the network was built by someone with half a clue ... err, that might be something of an over assumption based on local observations.

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