Calculating your school district’s bandwidth need: Network Essentials for Superintendents

Recently, we shared a post on district network infrastructure, the first in a series highlighting topics from Network Essentials for Superintendents—a free guide EducationSuperHighway created to help superintendents lead successful network upgrades. After gaining a better understanding of a typical district’s network infrastructure, the next step is to determine the amount of bandwidth needed to support your district’s learning goals.

Sounds simple enough, but how much bandwidth does your district truly need? Each district is unique and no one bandwidth number will meet everyone’s learning requirements across the board.

For our purposes here, we can think of bandwidth as the amount of data that can be delivered to each student. For example, today, students need a minimum of 100 kbps of Internet bandwidth—by 2018, that will increase to 1 Mbps per student.


Your upgrade plan should include an estimate of your bandwidth needs for two to three years, as well as options for increasing bandwidth within that timeframe, if necessary. It is important to keep in mind that according to our network experts, the demand for bandwidth is growing at approximately 50% every year.

In a school environment, the two main drivers of how much network bandwidth you need are (1) the number of devices like tablets, laptops, and smartphones your network is supporting and (2) how often these devices will be used. To address the first factor, take a tally of the number of devices that will access your network on a regular basis. It should be straightforward to count the number of district-owned devices, but keep in mind, if your district has a Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policy or a guest network, many students, teachers, and visitors will bring one or more devices of their own to your network.

The second factor—how often devices will be used—is a direct reflection of your district’s learning goals. The chart below outlines three general usage scenarios and the bandwidth necessary to support each of the various digital learning environments.

what are your learning goals

Once you have determined the amount of bandwidth needed per classroom to enable your schools’ digital learning environment, consider the district’s wide area network (WAN — need a network layout refresher? View diagram.)  To be sure that your WAN in not responsible for slowing down your network, match your total WAN bandwidth across all buildings to be at least equivalent to your Internet bandwidth. The FCC recommends that school district WANs are scalable to 10 Gbps. However, depending on the additional applications that run on just the WAN and not the Internet outside your district—like network-enabled security cameras—the available WAN bandwidth may need to be much more.

While there are other factors that may affect the amount of bandwidth your district needs—cloud-based applications, storage, online assessments, etc.—having enough bandwidth to support your district’s in-classroom goals is the foundation for planning your network upgrade. With this bandwidth estimate in mind, stay tuned for our next post which will highlight how to get the best deal on a robust network for your district. Or download the full guide now: Network Essentials for Superintendents.

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