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Overcoming Wi-Fi Issues and Security Challenges at Portsmouth Grammar School.

Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS), founded in 1732, is an independent school that offers education to boys and girls from nursery up to the sixth form. Situated in a former 19th-century army barracks, the school prides itself on achieving excellence and has been recognised as 'excellent' by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Embracing digital learning objectives, PGS considers mobile technology as a vital tool for enriching both teaching and learning experiences.

The Issue

PGS faced the challenge of introducing Wi-Fi across its campus, allowing students to utilise their own tablets, smartphones, and other connected mobile devices within the classrooms. However, the school’s historic flint-filled walls, once meant to withstand enemy artillery attacks, now posed a significant obstacle by hindering and blocking radio signals. This impedance resulted in connectivity issues even with the installation of network access points in every room. Additionally, ensuring robust and secure online protection for pupils, staff, and visitors remained of utmost importance.

The Solution

To address these challenges, 4th Platform conducted a thorough assessment of the current limitations and future requirements. Subsequently, they devised a comprehensive solution, creating a network of 150 wireless access points across the school, supporting more than 1,500 concurrently connected wireless devices. This approach not only reduced deployment costs but also ensured full Wi-Fi coverage throughout the campus.

To enhance security, the access points were connected to a network security appliance that authenticated users automatically upon entering the school grounds. This eliminated the need for time-consuming log-in pages or pre-shared keys for school-owned devices. In addition, a separate secure hotspot facility allowed guests to join the network safely. The WatchGuard appliance delivered a ‘defence in-depth’ approach to secure all users and their activities, offering features such as anti-virus, intrusion prevention, controlled website access, Spam blocker, and Application Control. The improved security and connectivity capabilities provided the flexibility for PGS to set up additional secure wireless networks on a ‘pop-up’ basis as required to support one-off events.

Expert View

4th Platform acknowledged the unique challenges posed by the historic building occupied by PGS. However, the combination of access points and high-level security appliances made it possible to deliver reliable connectivity and security at a fraction of the cost compared to other solutions. The implementation was relatively straightforward, enabling the Portsmouth Grammar IT team to integrate this function into their ongoing management processes with minimal need for additional skills. Moreover, this wireless installation represented the largest globally for Watchguard technology, showcasing the company’s ability to meet any eventuality confidently.

The solution has enabled the school to introduce new technologies with confidence, knowing they will be secure, while it is reassuring to know that our more adventurous pupils aren’t able to hack into the network!

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