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200,000 Wi-Fi laptops up for grabs – if you're an Essex schoolkid

County goes Centrino crazy

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Essex County Council is making 200,000 Centrino-based laptops available to teachers and pupils over the next three years.

The "Anytime Anywhere Learning" (AAL) campaign is kicking off in the classroom, but the council's goal is to see the whole county go wireless, with businesses and residents all having cable-free access to the Net.

The idea is that teachers and students in participating schools will be able to access centralised content from the classroom.

The sign-up process is straightforward. Essex county council has extended an open invitation to schools to join. The schools and the PTAs then vote on whether to go ahead. Assuming the vote is a "yes", they get going with fund-raising efforts.

"We have 50 schools registered as interested so far," said Julie Bain, fund raising manager at the E-Learning Foundation, the charity backing the project. "The way it will be implemented will obviously vary from school to school, but we've made sure there are plenty of checks to make sure that the schools are ready for the technology, and that it will actually be used once it arrives."

The Foundation estimates it will cost around £5 per week per child to lease the laptops - Centrinos, because they are lighterweight, as well as WiFi-tastic. Although schools are expected to demonstrate their commitment to the project, ELF will make up any shortfall, so every student will get a laptop to use, regardless of parental contribution. The council and the Foundation have yet to decide on who will supply this mega-contract, but they are running the shortlist contenders through their paces in some school pilots. So it looks like the decision will come down to which laptops the children like best.

Schools follow a three-month training period, and will work with ELF to make sure all the connectivity, software and content is all in place. When this is completed, the hardware will be dispatched to the participating schools, most likely a year group at a time.

Once the first phase is underway, phase two begins, sometime in 2005. This will make the most of broadband connectuons by clustering institutions around each hotspot, to share resources. The wireless infrastructure roll-out will start in 2004, and continue for the next three years. ®

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