jeudi 4 septembre 2014

Cost of migration to the Internet for schools

In educational environment, I often hear teacher discussions about affordability of technologies and their advantages. One of the discussions usually turns around the reduced price of ABS device or service (replace ABS by Chromebook, iPad, GoogleDdocs or anything else) that uses Internet for an important part of functionality.

However, the reality in education is much more complicated. One of the main limiting factors of Internet related technologies in education is the network. The system is routinely hit with spikes of activity followed by down times. For example, when everyone comes after lunch and starts working, the system and the servers are often hit with thousands(or hundreds of thousands) of requests that they need to serve in timely manner.


In our hypothetical school of 1200 students and 120 members of personnel, everyone has a network enabled device and around half of people have two devices. That means that WiFi needs to support around 2000 devices.

WiFi price

Usually, schools are highly dense environments with poor WiFi performance. That means that despite the fact that many APs (WiFi access modules) can support  up to 60 students it is common to see a density of 30 devices or less per AP. This gives us a total of 66 APs plus a controller:

  • each access point will cost from 450$ to 1200$ CAN. Assuming an average of 700$ per unit we are talking about 46000$
  • the controller with licenses will cost around 12000$. 
This gives a total of 58 000$ that has to be reinvested around every 5 to 7 years (8280$ to 12000$ per year) if the institution wants to keep up with new technologies (g-->n-->ac) and the increasing demand of users.

Of course, this calculation assumes that the prices will drop while demand will increase in the same proportion keeping the costs on the same level as now. In fact, the demand for broadband high speed internet has been growing exponentially resulting in a net increase of prices if we consider the same level of service over a span of the last 10 years.

Internet price

  • roughly 30% of the users will need concurrent access to bandwidth intensive applications (YouTube, Skype and the likes) requiring 500+ Kbps
  • roughly 30% will need 15 Kbps or less
  • 40% of users will be inactive
  • prices are based on Montreal, Quebec, Canada pricing as of August 2014
The calculations:
  • 30%*2000*0.5 Mbps=300 Mbps
  • 30%*2000*0.015 Mbps=9 Mbps
The price:
It is not easy to set the price for such a service BUT... let's take the prices at Montreal:
  • Videotron Business Solutions: highest offer is 200/30 Mbps for 207$/year with an agreement of 3 years. In this case, we will need two connections to satisfy user demand totaling roughly 340$/month plus a rooter that can aggregate and balance both connections. 
  • Prices accessible through private school association agreement: minimum of 960$/month for 300Mbps fiber optic connection.
  • Prices available on Skynet Canada highspeed WiFi service: 25Mbps for 900$/month
Using the lowest and the middle from the three examples above we could now calculate the total price of the network connection not including maintenance fees and other hidden costs.


  • 8280 + 4080 = 12 360$/year on lower end (Videotron)
  • 12000 + 11520 = 23 520$/year on higher end (fiber optic)
Considering that the above calculations do not include support, maintenance and possible growth, the cost estimate is a tight one and will most definitely be higher.
Definitely, the "free" is not really free. Schools need to carefully consider all implications before investing time and money in these cool tools and gadgets.

So what a school can do with 6000$ to 12000$ invested in pedagogical services like psychologist or inclusion specialist?

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