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Question: Is anyone controlling WiFi Access based on physical location, classroom control, manual toggle, schedule.

Hi All,

****Let me preface this question by saying, I know this may be a fools errand, best addressed through class management, etc. Please just speak to the feasibility and technical hurdles. There may be other applications with the same goal with different motivations that you would find more reasonable. bottom line, we're aware that this may be harder than it's worth, cause more problems that it solves, or prove indicative of a non-technical problem.****

We are a campus environment running CAPWAP on WLC/WISM with WCS behind it. We don't currently have WLA but I assume it may factor into some responses.

A request recently came to our CIO from a chairperson floating the idea of being able to controll wifi access in a classroom based on the whim of the instructor. Now, I recall this being one of the early worries of educational environments when 802.11 was first hitting the market in the early 2000s, but I don't see a lot of talk about it these days and this is the first time I've had a formal request.

What is envisioned is a functionality that would affect one room or geographic location at time and allow for simple manual control from that location.  Something like a smart classroom with an AMX programmable touchpanel with a toggle that would effectively enable/disable the wireless connectivity for the occupants of the room.

I could see this being possible in the way that location-based asset tracking applications might work, with some sort of list based ACL/auth/assocation toggling for targeted clients being (those within the area defined by the control signal origin, Bldg/Room#) effectively disabled/enabled on demand.

I would imagine that WLA would be necessary as well as some form of API to handle the definition of zones and to link control messages to actions.  Allowing clients to remain associated and even authenticated would also seem advantageous in easing the recovery of access.

Now, I know that something like this would require very good location tuning, which would be specifically challenging in our current environment of spotty non-surveyed AP placement, and it may require better AP coverage and placement/orientation, but is anyone currently doing something like this in their environment?

Are you aware of any turnkey products or configs? What might we need to consider or add to our infrastructure to enable something like this?

Further considerations:

*vertical axis (does WLA account well for this?) will killing a room on the 1st floor make it hard to avoid killing clients on floors above or below?

*API, does WLA have one? Does it have some standard XML/SOAP/SNMP interface for interacting with other systems openly?

I'm sure I'm not the first person to ask this question, but searches proved fruitless. Perhaps the first to ask it in this context on this forum.

Thanks in advance for any thoughtful answers you can provide.

Hall of Fame Community Legend

Ummmm ... No offense to you but I really worry about non-technical people making technical decisions based on a gossip from my cousin's aunt's nephew's best-friend-in-college-who-died-4-years-ago.

Anyway, I see two ways of doing this and it's not very easy.  As a matter of fact, it takes into account someone configuring either the switch or WLC to automatically turn off WLAN in a particular area.

1.  You can create multiple SSID and enable the SSID automatically based on time.  This is very complex because the poor administrator has to ensure the time constraints are correct.  Another thing is to ensure that the setting is set to the right AP (wait unitl you have to replace the AP!).

2.  You can enable Cisco EnergyWise to turn on or off the WAP at a particular room at a particular time.

Now, if you want to RESTRICT WLAN signal in a specific room, then your CIO has to consider faraday cage.  This maybe expensive but it is THE BEST way.  Take note that faraday cage will restrict mobile phone signals.

Another method is to allow instructors access to the WCS.  Someone will have to train them how to enable/disable a batch of WAPs.  Frankly, I'll set the place on fire first before teaching instructors how to use the WCS. 



Thanks for reading and replying. I'm not taking offense at your remarks or suggestions, though usually when someone qualifies a sentence with "no offense" it is followed by something offensive.

Trust that we are not operating by rumor. I was referring to my own research when I started rolling out wifi in 2001.

I'm not sure who you are implying is non-technical but I hope you mean our teaching faculty rather than myself..

Thanks for your suggestions. I'll address them with comments so that subsequent responders know what I am and am not looking for in terms of functionality:

1. Creating muliple SSID interchanged based on schedule.

This doesn't meet the requirement of exact location awareness and manual toggling. It would also prove confusing to users if SSIDs are appearing/disappearing.

2. Use Cisco Energywise to turn off specific APs at specific times.

Again, time based and not location based. Also, AP deploymenty is not dense/granular enough that signal from one unit correlates to the target geographic area.

3. Faraday cage.

4. Allow instructors access to WCS.

I'm with you, this will not happen. Hence the thought that we have to do the very hard work (scripting, programming touchscreens with controls) to make it foolproof.

Basically, I can envision how this is possible with good location services and a well defined and tuned radio network, mixed with some scripting and API type integration, but I want to know if anyone has done it or knows without a doubt that it has insumountable roudblocks with Cisco's offerings.

Thanks again!

Hall of Fame Community Legend

Ok, so this is what you are looking for:  At a push of a button, turn ON/OFF the WLAN in a classroom.

Here's a cheaper suggestion for you.  Group all of your WAP in a particular classroom and use either a power injector all connected to a power board with a master switch.  When the instructor deems that it's time to turn on the WLAN, all he/she has to do is flip the switch.  You can't go wrong with that.

If you don't want to use power injector then the more expensive version is to use mid-span switches. 


That right, at the push of a button, within said room, turn off wifi access within that room.

I appreciate the thought you are putting in, but this suggestion wouldn't work either.

I have classrooms that are surrounded by studios and other classrooms that are in immediate proximity.

With this method I would not be able to maintain signal in surrounding areas while removing it from an area where it's turned off.

As for injectors vs midspan, all of my APs are on POE managed switches, so it wouldn't be such a feat to program a touch panel to send SNMP or CLI commands to power on/off those ports, but alas it wouldn't help me even if could.

This is why I inquired specifically about WLA and asset tracking type applications.  With well tuned location capabilities it seems you could trigger action on clients based on their exact location.  Then all the "button" would need to do is change what that applied policy is in that location, for instance, apply ACL blocking access, and redirect web requests to a landing page explaining why access is denied. Leave the area and ACL/redirect is removed, or, more likely client MAC is removed from that policy.  

To clarify, I am not necessarily wanting to do this. I just want to know if it is possible and if someone is doing it, how.

Hall of Fame Community Legend

Now, I know that something like this would require very good location tuning, which would be specifically challenging in our current environment of spotty non-surveyed AP placement, and it may require better AP coverage and placement/orientation, but is anyone currently doing something like this in their environment?

Not in ours.  You see we know more about the wireless than anyone in the school we manage.  As a matter of fact when we started rolling out wireless (2009) the technology was met with disdain and disgust.  Nowadays, the schools are clamouring for more wireless access points that it's no longer funny.