Digitalization at schools

Digitalization becomes more and more part of our daily life. In order to cope with the challenges that come with it, children should learn how to use digital media in a competent and responsible way from the beginning. In many countries, the government has raised a dedicated fund to support schools in buying digital hardware, training the teachers and invest in an appropriate IT infrastructure. As the taxpayer’s money is spent for this, economical solutions, which have to be durable, long lasting and robust at the same time, have to be selected. In order to make sure that the IT cabling of a school will work well for many years, some points have to be minded. This starts with the building itself. New constructions where the IT cabling is just added are quite rare. In most cases, old buildings have to be retro-fitted, which calls for expertise and appropriate product solutions. What is even more: Most rooms and what they are used for differs from the rooms in other buildings.

 

Special requirements for the student network

The easiest part of the IT cabling is the administration’s network, which is identical to the cabling of office premises according to EN 50173-2.
It has to be separated either physically or logically from the student’s network, which makes additional demands on the cabling. The outlets in a classroom are not permanently in use, and a teacher is not always present, either. Outlets with captive dust protection flaps protect the RJ45 jacks from dirt. Depending on the class level, a lockable lid that prevents from unauthorized access can be a good idea. In rooms with special use, like technology of chemistry lessons, IP44 rated outlets protect the RJ45 jacks from dust and moisture. 

 

Product selection for school cabling

The equipment of rooms with an appropriate number of outlets and their positioning depends on the type and size of the school and building. In a greenfield installation it often makes sense to install an additional cabling for modern building automation and smart building solutions.
In any case, the IT cabling has to work for many years. Cheap products that are sometimes used in office networks very often do not survive for a long time in the tough and demanding school environment. Robust, durable high-quality products that will work for many years are an economical solution at the end of the day.

 

 

The network structure of a school building is identical to the structure in office buildings. The cabling standards ISO/IEC 11801-1 and -2- and EN 50173-1 and -2 specify a structure with three areas:

  1. Between the buildings (campus) fiber optic cables are preferred as the link lengths are too high to use copper cables.
    Up to 400 meters multimode fibers can be used, for longer lengths single mode fibers are necessary.
  2. Between the floors inside of a building (riser) fiber optic cables are preferred as well to avoid electrical problems causes by different electrical potentials on each floor which can cause transmission problems.
    As the link lengths are in most cases below 400 meters, multimode fibers are typically used
  3. On the floor between distributor and outlet (horizontal), copper cables that can also transmit electrical current to supply IT devices with up to 71.3 watts of electrical power are installed.

PCs and notebooks are sold with a 10/100/1000 network interface card, which means they can transmit data rates from 10 to 1000 megabits per second (= 1 gigabit per second), and so 1 gigabit per second is the minimum requirement for IT cabling in schools. Cabling components – cable, plug and jack – that meet the categories 5 and 6, as specified in the cabling standards, are designed for data rates up to 1 gigabit per second. The cabling standard ISO/IEC 11801-2:2017-11 specifies IT cabling to have a life expectancy of at least ten years. IT cabling that is installed today and that is just capable to meet the maximum data rate of today’s devices is not future-proof. The cabling components should meet the requirements of the next level too, which is category 6A for data rates of 10 megabits per second to 10 gigabits per second, in order to be useful for many years. Components of an even higher category are not helpful, as the maximum link length dramatically decreases then. The maximum length of the channel – the cabling link including the patch cords on both ends – for data rates up to 10 gigabits per second is 100 meters. With 25/40 Gigabit Ethernet, it comes down to 30 meters. Depending on the cabling components, 25 gigabits per second can be transmitted over a channel up to 50 meters; this is more than enough for a server room, but not for the cabling of a building.

 

Advantages through pre-terminated cables

When pre-terminated cables are installed, there is no need for the time-consuming splicing of fibers or polishing of connectors on site nor for elaborate testing. All of this has already be done by the manufacturer, the pre-terminated cables just have to be installed and plugged in. A short test with a simple optical loss test, set after the cable is installed, is sufficient. As the installation of pre-terminated cables is quick and easy, interfering with teaching activities in the building is reduces to a minimum.

 

Equipment of building and floor distributors

In most cases a 19“ cabinet is used for the building distributor in the plant room. Inside of the cabinet 19” patch panels and switches are installed.

 

On the floors, small cabinets or wall-mount cabinets are typically installed as floor distributors in engineering or storage rooms. Not every school building has an engineering room on each floor, so often other rooms have to be used instead.

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