This week at the Mississauga Better Living Centre the wifi was so slow as to be useless. Signal strength was fine, the throughput was nonexistent. When it takes more than 10 seconds to load Google, something isn't right.
The Sheraton Parkway North in Richmond Hill I've been to twice this year. Better than Mississauga's attempt, but still boggy and slow at times, and again, this is regardless of signal strength.
One of the sure-fire killers of tech use in class rooms is boggy internet. Teachers are on tender hooks every time they try something online. If it fails to load, they are stressed and tend to face a lot of blow back from students looking for an out. If you're going to pitch the cloud, online collaborative tools and an alternate to the desktop, you're not going to do it with patchy internet.
Our school wifi system is a monster. It cost a fortune, and, in theory, works very well... until all our traffic gets funneled into the queue we share with 88 other schools for a single internet connection through the board office, then, not so good. I constantly hear students railing against the 'crap computers in this school'. It's not the computers, you'd think the digital natives would know that.
Back in the day when I was learning networking (the computer kind, not the people kind), we were told again and again to design out any SPoFs. Single Points of Failure will kill a network stone dead. They'll kill the use of technology in the class room for any but the most hard core digital evangelists as well. Nobody needs the time wasted, stress and headache of setting up a lesson only to have it fail because the internet wasn't there for you when you needed it.
People always get hyped about technology, I do too. Things like chalk boards and chalk? I've never had that technology fail on me of its own accord. Can you imagine if 20% of the time you went to write on the board and nothing came out? It's certainty is what makes it good technology. Same thing can be said for paper and pen...
I hope that we are not just looking for faster network speeds, but also resiliency in our networks. I'd love to see my next gen wifi receiver using whichever band is offering the best throughput (N, G, B, I don't care; they never get near their theoretical bandwidth limits anyway). I'd love to see a school network that never reaches bandwidth limits because it shapes and prioritizes traffic to ensure smooth operation (Facebook packages low priority please), and I'd love to see wifi networks intelligently and resiliently dealing with traffic crush, traffic sharing and shaping to push data not necessarily as quickly, but as efficiently as they can.
I fear in the headlong rush for faster transfer speeds, we are forgetting to build any kind of resiliency into our networks, which will make things like Chromebooks look little more than curiosities. No one is interested in a computer that won't work as often as the poor wifi I've seen implemented.