This debate sprang forth from the recent International Symposium in Baltimore, MD:
Facilities: Invention, Maintenance, and Renewal,"
Facilities for the 21st Century
The American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education CAE
on Educational Building PEB
Wired Versus Wireless
Billions of dollars are being invested in wiring schools for desktop computer networks. Laptop computers and wireless networks offer an appealing alternative, promising greater access for the learner and reduced infrastructure. Glenn Meeks and Prakash Nair debate the issues. Glenn is President of Meeks Technology Group in Cary, North Carolina. Prakash Nair is President Elect of Urban Educational Facilities for the 21st Century (UEF-21), New York City.
Glenn, Prakash made presentations at the CEFPI and UEF/PEB/CAE conferences in Baltimore last month, putting forth the notion that schools would be better off investing in laptops and wireless networks rather than wiring classrooms for desktop computers. What is your opinion on this approach?
GM: I agree with
Prakash 100% that in terms of mobility and access, laptops are great. But
in terms of bang for your buck, I do not agree. Meeks Technology recently
planned a high school in Allen, Texas, with a footprint of nearly 500,000
square feet. The bid for a hard-wired network came in at $1.5 million; the
system included 5,600 data/power ports, spread throughout the building,
with an electrical outlet and 100 MB per second network transmission
capacity at each port. An alternative bid for a wireless system came in at
$3.5 million; the system included 2 - 300 transmitting hubs, delivering 10
MB per second shared capacity at each node.
PN: I predict that, two years from now, this debate will look ridiculous because advances in technology will make wireless communications in the classroom the only sensible choice in most situations. Costs are changing rapidly. Whereas the Allen High School project was bid with PC transmitting cards that cost in the $350 to $500 range, a WaveLAN card, developed by Lucent Technologies, is now available for $179.
Prakash, your argument for laptops and wireless networks is particularly compelling for renovation projects, where the cost of opening walls and expanding the electrical power infrastructure are greatest. Do you have the same opinion for new construction?
PN: I would definitely propose that all new schools
consider wireless first. Getting into the actual technology
solutions for a minute, let us take a hallway in an old school with eight
classrooms in a double-loaded corridor. One option is to fully wire two of
these classrooms and equip them each with 30 computers. Under this
scenario, the remaining six classrooms will not be computer enabled.
In New York City, it would cost about $150,000 to bring electric and
network cabling to each desk within these two classrooms. The cost of the
computers is extra. With this solution, you would essentially have two
very inflexible computer labs within every eight-room segment of the
school. On the plus side, you would have a very generous bandwidth
for your heavy multi-media applications that must travel through the LAN.
However, this arrangement will not necessarily speed up Internet
communications, which will continue to trickle in at about 1.5 mbps.
"There is a
tendency to look for solutions that will work in all cases, but there
isnít one - what works in Raleigh, North Carolina will not likely work
in New York City, Chicago, Detroit or Los Angles."