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3Com mounts school Wi-Fi fightback

Touts 'second-generation wireless' against health hysteria

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3Com has decided to fight the hysteria over WiFi in schools. The company has hooked up with a reseller that specialises in the education market called 802.UK to promote "second-generation wireless" - by which it means enterprise-class managed WLANs - for schools.

The companies said they will offer free wireless information seminars and advice, and a Wireless for Schools guide that will help teachers and pupils take advantage of Wi-Fi - not just for Internet access, but also for voice-over-WiFi, CCTV, wireless asset tagging and the like.

Their ambition is to grab a chunk of the billions of pounds available through the UK government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, a 10-15 year scheme to rebuild or renew every secondary school in England. Through BSF, the government wants to reform learning through greater use of ICT - information communications & technology.

Could giving Wi-Fi a fancy new name help side-step the objections of concerned parents and tabloid TV hacks alike? 3Com and 802.UK clearly hope so.

"Second-generation wireless provides immeasurable advantages to schools and to the community as well, through life-long learning. It's a step forward in achieving the government's vision for the BSF programme," claimed 802.UK boss Gary Hudson.

"Wireless also improves school security," added Steve Johnson, 3Com's UK channel manager. "For example, using IP surveillance to monitor external exits, doorways and gates, and vandal-proof cameras with inbuilt microphones, staff can record incidents. With national statistics showing that a teacher is assaulted every seven minutes, security is a top priority for schools today."

3Com pointed out that Wi-Fi laptops emit thousands of times less radiation than microwave ovens, and hundreds of times less than mobile phones.

A mobile phone held 1 inch from your head typically transmits approximately 40mW whereas, at a normal distance of 1 foot, the radiation level of a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop is under 0.1mW, the company said.

It added that microwave ovens are allowed to radiate up to 1W outside the box, and are often mounted at head height, so the cook's head can get extremely close to the 1W emissions.

Whether those arguments will be enough to overcome the objectors remains to be seen - but with so much money at stake, networking companies aren't likely to give up this market easily. ®

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