Pennine’s Wi-Fi Expertise Aids College’s Access All Hours Vision

Wireless networking expertise provided by Bury-based Pennine Telecom is helping a North West college achieve its aim to provide students with around-the-clock access to its resources.

The telecommunications and data specialist has installed two wireless networks to serve up to 12,000 students and 600 staff across Hopwood Hall College’s Rochdale and Middleton campuses.

“It’s our vision to provide students with 24/7 access to college resources 365 days of the year and these networks are an important part of a three year strategy to achieve that,” explains Hopwood Hall’s Director of Technology and Innovation, Simon Evans.

Some 136 Motorola wireless access points have been installed to host the two networks, one of which provides free wi-fi internet access to support students’ own laptops, netbooks and smartphones. The second is configured to support only college owned and managed devices and provides additional access to internal systems hosting files and applications.

“We wanted to create what I call the Starbucks experience for students so that they could grab a cup of coffee in our Bistro, catch up on emails, do some studying or research,” says Mr. Evans, adding that members of the public visiting its Cottons Restaurant or beauty salons can also make use of the free wi-fi.

The networks, which offer typical speeds of around 54mbps, support and promote students’ learning. “There’s so much online content relating to the various curriculums and if students have got a couple of hours between lessons they can access it through their own device, or they can go to a Learning Resource centre and borrow a netbook. Not every student will have a PC at home so we want to facilitate access as much as we can. A student is also much more likely to go and search the internet for a project than they are to go to a library for a book.”

Mr. Evans said there were three key reasons why Pennine Telecom were selected to handle the project. “One was cost, I won’t shirk away from that,” he candidly reports. “The solution was very, very cost effective, so much so that we were quite surprised to be honest.”

Crucially Pennine inspired “absolute confidence” as they were the only bidder to conduct a full site survey as part of their tender. “They identified where wireless access points needed to be strategically placed in order to maximise the signal strength anywhere in the campus. To me it’s valued-added solutions like that which win points.” The technical issues to be overcome were fully apparent to Hopwood as an earlier attempt to install a similar network had been thwarted. “The previous team did not understand the complexities of installing a wireless network in terms of the type of components and the make-up of building, the brickwork, lead and pipes. “With the Pennine networks it doesn’t matter if you’re up at our new 3G Sports Park in Middleton or the basement at Rochdale, you will get wireless access.”

Thirdly Pennine was the only vendor to propose the Motorola solution. “The technology is way more advanced and cost effective than anything else proposed. Future scalability options are available to us at minimal cost. That’s important because we didn’t just want a solution that met our needs today, we needed it to be able to expand as demand increases through student numbers, our own expansion of netbooks and the number of mobile devices coming into the college. Each wireless access point can act as a switch for other switches so to expand it’s just like calling off a production line – we order units, plug them in and we’ve suddenly got the expansion. The running costs are also absolutely minimal”

Installation was equally satisfactory. “Pennine’s engineers worked alongside ours and it all went very, very smoothly,” concludes Mr. Evans.

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