If your school’s wireless LAN is bogging down, the Linksys E8350 can help with dual-band 4X4 operations that tops out at a theoretical 2.4GHz of bandwidth. The 802.11ac router can also run as an access point or wireless bridge, has four removable stubby antennas and can connect to clients on both 2.4- and 5GHz data channels. In addition to using beamforming techniques, the E8350 can be set up horizontally or vertically and provides access to both USB and eSATA ports. It costs $250.
The problem with network extenders is that it’s hard to tell what their up to without a connected computer to look over the status screens. With a touch-screen of its own, Amped Wireless’s TAP-EX can make pushing WiFi to all the nooks and crannies of a school simple because all of its set up and configuration can be done with its 3.5-inch color touch-screen. Inside is a powerful 800-milliwatt transmitter that receives and retransmits 2.4GHz WiFi data for compatibility with 802.11b, g and n devices; it doesn't work with newer 802.11ac’s 5GHz signals, though. The device even has a pair of Ethernet ports for wired devices and a USB slot for a printer or hard drive. It costs $120 and when it’s sitting idle, the TAP-EX’s display shows the day and time.
Like the Linksys WRT 1900AC router for its high-speed and long-range? You’ll love the matching WRT-8 wired switch. It not only has the same color and design as the wireless router, but the feet of the router fit into indentations in the switch so that the two can be stacked, making for a neat professional look. On the downside, due to heat issues, the router needs to sit on top of the switch.
In addition to eight wired gigabit ports on the back, the WRT-8 has a bank of LEDs up front that show that it’s turned on and which ports are active. Just like the WRT 1900AC, you can turn the lights off if you want a stealth network. The switch is unmanaged, but its ports are autosensing to optimize data flow and they automatically shut down if they’re not being used to save power. With built-in Quality of Service software, the WRT-8 can prioritize a LAN’s operations so that video can take precedence over slower-moving emails. It costs $70.
If you thought that having an 802.11ac router with three antennas was a good idea, then Netgear’s Nighthawk X4 is even better. Based on Quantenna’s 500MHz WiFi chipset, the new Nighthawk router can handle four independent streams of data over the 5- and 2.4GHz bands. It can move up to a theoretical peak of 2.3Gbps, but expect much less than that if you plan to continue using older gear. The router has an eSATA port for a hard drive as well as a pair of USB 3.0 connectors and four gigabit LAN ports. It will sell for $280.
Why settle for single mode WiFi speed when you can now go four-way with the Asus RT-AC87 router. It runs on both 2.4- and 5GHz bands, works with WiFi clients old and new, has four gigabit wired Ethernet ports as well as four antennas for grabbing the strongest signals. With the right 802.11ac clients, it can push as much as 1.7gigabits of data per second to a room full of students. It includes the ability to lock out off-limits sites as well as protect against a virus attack. It costs $270.
The latest in school networking is D-Link’s DAP 2660, a WiFi access point that can not only use the latest 802.11ac format for top bandwidth, but blends in with the background, looking more likea fire alarm. The $230 device works in both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands, can be wall mounted and powered by either an AC adapter or its Ethernet cable. There aren’t any protruding antennas to get in the way and it’s covered by a lifetime warranty.
When there’s a problem with the classroom’s Web connection, it’s often hit or miss to figure out where the fault lies. Is it the Internet connection, the school’s LAN, the online service or general congestion on the Web. The Internet Connectivity Monitor is a small and simple program that periodically reaches out and tries to connect to an online resource and reports the results. You can try two different Web pages at the same time, set how frequently you want to do check on the Web as well as keep a log of connections and misconnections. The best part is that if there’s a problem, the program shows it in red, right in the middle of the screen.
Most administrators and IT types are perfectly content to get generic equipment to fill out their school’s network, but Aerohive Networks can simplify a WiFi set up with their school-centric apps and controller-less design that puts the emphasis on centralized management of the LAN’s components. The company’s StudentManager app lets staff monitor the wireless network’s activity and performance, while the TeacherView program lets teachers monitor what students are doing online.