Europe's largest and most powerful Ethernet network was officially launched yesterday as the foundation stone for a national broadband education infrastructure linking schools country-wide.
The London Grid for Learning is a collaboration between 33 local education authorities to provide broadband access to improve education and communications across the capital.
It is supported by technology from a consortium of service providers, including Equinox and Thus Telecom.
The grid will provide high speed internet access and a range of electronic teaching materials, including video and advanced graphics, to schoolchildren in primary and secondary schools in the region.
It uses a portal from Digitalbrain, which went live last September, to manage the digital curriculum.
The Ethernet network has been built using over 440Gb of switching capacity across 12 locations. The 'Layer 3' network includes traffic prioritisation across IP.
Schools can opt for bandwidth ranging from 2Mb to 100Mb, according to their needs.
Around 350 of London's 2,700 schools are already connected to the broadband network, and the total is expected to reach 500 by the end of August.
Schools connected to the network are expected to benefit from cost savings of up to 90 per cent in internet connection charges.
Brian Durrant, chief executive at the London Grid for Learning, explained that surplus bandwidth would be sold off to other organisations, including non-educational authorities and the private sector, as a revenue generating exercise to help fund the project.
"We recognise this as an opportunity and will act appropriately and responsibly," he said.
But John Jackson, head of education IT at the London Borough of Camden, warned that the implementation hadn't been without its hiccups.
"This is much more than an access grid to the internet," he said. "We've not yet built the stability and levels of reliability we need. There have been delays and we will continue to face challenges and setbacks."
BT has already laid 10 million metres of fibre optic cable to create the core rings of the network and connect the schools to aggregation points. A further four million metres will be needed to complete the project.
The Government's target is to get all schools connected by spring 2005.
Lord Dennis Stevenson, whose Connecting the Learning Society report published five years ago outlined a vision for the use of IT in schools, described the launch as a defining moment in realising that dream.
"This is going to change the lives of millions of people in coming years," he explained. "But this is not a panacea. There is still knowledge to be gained without the use of information and communication technology."
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