Connectivity has become an essential consideration for the modern school. IT systems are no longer closed, internal networks - everything, from learning in the classroom to office administration, is connected to and depends on the internet.
That makes choice of broadband provider especially important. Schools nowadays are high bandwidth environments, which means they place high demands on internet services in terms of the number of people getting online.
A classroom full of pupils each with their own device, all trying to get online at once, creates a concentrated cluster of online traffic. You need systems that can cope with the load and guarantee everyone can get on. And connections need to be fast too, as time spent waiting for pages to load is lost learning time.
Multiply that demand across a school, add in office functions, VoIP telephone and a networked security system, and you can see why school bandwidth demands are so high.
So what type of broadband connection is best to meet those demands? Here’s an overview of some of the main choices available.
ADSL vs Fibre
ADSL broadband is delivered over fixed telephone lines. Its main benefits are that it is simple and cheap - if you already have a telephone line to your premises, you can simply add in broadband services. However, ADSL does not handle high volume demands well and is mainly used for homes, although smaller schools may still find it a good option, especially in rural areas.
Fibre broadband has always been heralded as much quicker than ADSL, because fibre optic cables carry signals more efficiently than the copper cables used in telephone lines. However, especially in towns and cities, there is little difference between the two these days, because most on-street telephone exchanges or ‘cabinets’ are now connected via fibre optic cable.
When you buy fibre broadband, it usually means that you are connecting to a local cabinet that has a fibre connection. This is known as ‘Fibre-to-the-Cabinet’ (FTTC) broadband. The connection from your premises to the cabinet is still made using the old copper telephone lines, just as with ADSL.
Fibre to the Premises
If you absolutely want to guarantee high speed and high bandwidth, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband is the premium option. Chosen by an increasing number of large businesses because of its reliability, FTTP involves running a high-speed fibre optic cable straight to your building.
The drawback to FTTP is cost. You have to pay for fibre cabling to be installed which, depending on how far your school buildings are from the nearest cabinet, could cost tens of thousands of pounds. But for large schools and colleges which want to future proof their broadband infrastructure for the next decade or so, it is worth considering.
A lower cost alternative to FTTP is to use a leased line connection. Leased lines do not connect your premises directly to the internet. Instead, your internet service provider will install a dedicated private line from your school to their data centre, and then connect you to the internet from there.
There are still costs involved in installing this kind of intermediary connection, but they are lower than FTTP. The private connection also allows your ISP to manage security.
Leased lines can be fibre or ethernet. So-called Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) leased connections are growing increasingly popular because they support high upload as well as download speeds.
Most people think of internet speed in terms of downloading - how long it takes a page to load, how well you can stream a video and so on. But schools can have high upload demands as well. If you operate cloud-based learning platforms and data systems, there will be a continual stream of outwards traffic as well.
EFM lines use the same ethernet technology that supports high speed, efficient internal networks to establish an external connection, making it quick and efficient to connect to Cloud services.