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This page is part of the history of computing article. For info on implementing wireless technology, please see: Wireless Networking & Security

Wireless networking was used by a few independent schools before 1999 (Innovation Timeline-1996) but it was Apple's release of the iBook and AirPort in 1999 which led to mainstream use of 802.11b (Wifi) wireless networks. Lucent worked with Apple to develop the Airport, and Lucent's WaveLan cards and access points worked with iBooks as well as PCs. (WaveLan access points installed in 1999 are still in use supporting the RCDS dual-platform 1:1 laptop program.)

Janet Thorson, of Duchesne Acedemy in Houston related the following about the early days of wireless in an email message sent to Fred Bartels in January 2006.

Ursuline and Cincinnatti were not wireless (when visited by Duchesne educators). They were the leader in laptops in the hands of students, but CCDS was hard wired until about 1999 or 2000, and Ursuline had no network connectivity for students until about the same time. Episcopal installed a full campus wireless network in 1998 as did we, but we went with two different technologies. We went with direct sequencing (Lucent based) and they went another route. I felt that we could not go wrong with them as our guide. We were their premiere school for a short time, then the wild fire began.
There was only one fully wired campus in California, that Lucent knew about, at the time we were planning implementation in the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998. There was also a school in Chicago that had a partial campus that helped me to decide, and one in Austin that was just months ahead of us so we could not visit. I cannot take credit for much, but our decision to implement a full-scale wireless was not one that we copied from anyone. It was scary to not be able to see one in action before taking the jump, but I had a Board of Trustees behind me that supported us giving it a try. It was a great decision.


Wireless networking solved a huge problem for 1:1 laptop programs. Providing wired network drops for hundreds of roving laptops had either been extremely expensive or very messy. Brewster Academy, which started its 1:1 program in 1992, spent $900,000 on their wired network which included thousands of network ports. Greenwich Academy, which started its 1:1 program in 1998, developed an innovative but awkward solution involving portable "baskets" containing a hub and one uplink wire and 20 or so wires to plug into laptops. Solutions like this, while creative, were less than ideal. (If anyone has pictures of solutions like this please consider sharing them here.)

The cost of PCMCIA wireless networking cards, at around $300, was prohibitive before 1999. Apple's AirPort card was initially priced at $100 and immediately changed the whole pricing structure of wireless. The cost of wireless networking hardware has dropped steadily since '99. Wireless networking capability is now a standard built-in feature of most current portable computers. Full-featured wireless access points are now available for a few hundred dollars.


Need to add

  • wireless security issues
  • impact of wireless computers on schools
  • growth of 1:1 programs
  • professional development changes related to 1:1 computing
  • new networking hardware made essential by wireless networking and 1:1 computing

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