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How to not do your school's RFP

It's RFP season and school districts all throughout the land are putting out RFPs (Request for Proposal) for refreshes, upgrades and complete fork-lifts of their Wireless LANs (WLAN). But, as a taxpayer, I am extremely frustrated by the poor quality of these RFPs. It concerns me that millions (billions?) of dollars are being wasted because of poorly constructed RFPs and badly designed and deployed WLANs. 

I really should't say "designed" because they are anything but. They can range from RFPs with a list of materials and quantity of APs to one that includes copious amounts of technical verbiage that means nothing, or is completely off the mark. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

"In academic classrooms there should be a minimum of two 802.11ac 3x3 Mimo radios visible in all parts of the room with signal strength of no less than -57 dBm; one 802.11gn radio operating at 2.5 GHz with a minimum signal strength of -65 dBm, and one 802.11an 5 GHz 3x3 Mimo radio with a minimum signal strength of -65 dBm. The 802.11ac radios should be configured with the 802.11a data rates disabled to enable higher speed for the n and ac clients."

This sentence makes no sense. "11ac" radios at -57, or stronger? That's not reasonable. And the ac radios ARE the n radios! MAYBE if we had separate radios for each we could somehow achieve -57 for ac and -65 for n... MAYBE. But, even then and 802.11ac design based on those levels is not only not necessary, but highly improbable to design and deploy successfully. The quantity of APs needed would be too much, and the distance between would have to be extraordinarily small. And disable 802,11a rates? You can't - MCS rates 0-7 are mandatory.

Another RFP I reviewed was simple a list of products. One of this controller, this many of AP x, this many licenses, etc. Never mind that one of the APs types they referenced was for outdoors and does not come with antennas. Were specific antenna listed? No. Never mind that they listed 50+ quantity for APs, but had 200+ licenses. Growth? Another controller? Nope.

I inquired about the items listed and asked if there was a design for this project since installation was part of the RFP. Nope. Floorplans? Nope. They just came up with the number using 1 AP per classroom math. Thanks, Vendor Marketing Departments!

So, no design, no floorpans, but they want pricing to include installation and configuration? Do they know their requirements for the WLAN? Will they know the number of clients, and breakdown (a/b/g/n/ac)? Nope. All this will be revealed to the winner of the RFP, but only after you provide pricing. And remember - this includes outdoor AP deployment as well. 

So, what's the result of these "bad" RFPs? A waste of taxpayer dollars, a disservice to the students who are supposed to benefit from the new technology, and a slap in the face and burnt reputation for whatever vendor gets installed be it Cisco, Aruba, Ruckus, Aerohive, etc.




There's plenty of blame t go around. A lot of it has to do with the way E-Rate works, or thought to work. Schools are fearful of breaking rules that would bar them from receiving funds. So, many times they are weary of giving out information even to their own deteriment. Simply listing the requirements in the RFP, along with floorplans, on a public website would resolve that issue.

If you're a school looking to make an RFP at the very least bring in a consultant who can help make a list of requirements and even a design. Take the time to put together scale floorpans. Allow for a walkthrough of your facilities. Make a list of your wireless requirements, device types and, and most common applications that will be in use on the WLAN. But, don't just make a list of materials if you don't really understand how the design comes together. Let the integrator do that with the information you supply to all comers.

Here are some excellent resources for you to use to help make your RFP reasonable and successful:

Let this RFP season be a "Win/Win". You get the WLAN you want and WLAN Pros get the info they need make it happen. In the end don't you want to be the hero when the new WLAN is installed and it meets, or exceeds your expectations?