One issue that wireless technology helps address in K-12 is school violence, allowing institutions to communicate public safety information across an IP infrastructure. "We can deliver additional content, as well," said Boettcher, adding that the Alliance is seeking sponsors to help extend the project to "Greenfield" schools that lack funding to be online.The first university to sign on was Winona State University in Minnesota. The university has been at the cutting edge of mobility in education since 1994, when it became the first IBM Laptop University in a project that examined what happens when all students in a university are provided with laptops. For the past six year, said Joe Whetstone, vice president of information technology at Winona State, the campus has been wireless. According to Whetstone, extending access beyond the campus, onto other campuses and into the neighboring community, was the next step. "This would enable them to have local connectivity back to our site," he said. HBC, the local cable provider in Winona, is scheduled to deploy access points around the city that will enable community-wide access to Education First around Winona. The university uses the LEAP protocol with radius authentication. Students who connect back to the campus network from an off-campus site, he said, connect through a VPN configured on the laptops before the university distributes them. Exactly how will the system work as it expands nationally? Myers described it like this: If a student is at School A and is visiting School B, she simply logs onto School Bs network using her normal log-in credentials. School B forwards the authentication credentials to Airpaths InterRoam platform, which operates as a hub, checking them against School As user authentication database. If the credentials are validated, authentication clearance is sent back to School B. "Were taking the Web and allowing it to expand in a spoke environment with Airpath as a central traffic cop," he said. To get an idea of the utility such a network provides, think of the number of student athletes and fans who travel to distant campuses to attend athletic games or other events and have not been able to connect back to their home campus computers because they lacked connectivity. Education First offers them ubiquitous access while relieving the various campuses of having to juggle guest access credentials. Using a proxy authentication system, Education First allows a student who is given authentication credentials at one school to log in from an affiliated off-campus location. That could be an affiliated commercial hot spot, a municipal network or a corporate site, as well as a school, college or university location. To participate in Education First, universities will have to have an authentication system in place, secured by SSL, and their existing Wi-Fi network should conform with WISPr (Wireless ISP roaming) best practices. Airpath will manage the network and enable roaming across campuses and other public hot spots through its InterRoam roaming platform. The company is partnering with Bluesocket, specialists in securing and managing open wireless systems, to secure the platform. Institutions that join the Education First Network will receive roaming revenue from participating commercial carriers. The InterRoam platform will provide the AAA (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) functions while the National Joint Powers Alliance, a national educational cooperative purchasing alliance, and the Broadband Alliance will handle business management and distribution of those funds. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
"More importantly, we have staff that go from school to school but cant get connected," she said. Wireless is a key enabler in many old city school districts, said Boettcher, where putting cabling through thick plaster walls was cost-prohibitive.