5G in schools. For smarter classrooms and greater connectivity

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Learning has found a new way to become smart with 5G in schools

The uncertain COVID-19 outbreak escalated the demand for wireless network connectivity in schools as the crisis compelled all the students to be locked in homes. How can we maximize learning time? This is what became the matter of concern for educators most of the time and started looking for multiple ways to impart education to their students for a longer duration.

Though Wi-Fi is an older wireless technology widely used in home, office settings schools and enterprises to deliver connectivity, it is not much secure with less indoor and outdoor coverage where there are interferences which makes it unreliable and this is where private LTE/5G network has been filling the gap recently. Other key drivers for poor wireless access in schools are inadequate infrastructure such as bandwidth pipe, firewalls, switches, wireless access points (WAPs) that is critical to serve seamless wireless connections across the campus.

Using CBRS shared spectrum on 3.5GHz frequency band is making private LTE/5G network attractive for many industries including education industry. It helps in satiating the demand for high speed with greater bandwidth, reliable and clear security and is cost efficient serving network coverage in indoor locations of schools as well as remote outdoor sites that is unable to cover with Wi-Fi network in order to facilitate learning from home to students located remotely during COVID.

How is 5G for education helping students in their learning process?

Education is imperative and should not be compromised at all, especially in situations like the COVID-19 crisis that suddenly imposed strict restrictions to stay at home. Educators realised the need for technologies like 5G that could support them with attractive methodologies to give their students full time learning even when they are seated in their respective homes and not in schools. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have always been at the forefront of testing 5G networks, deploying and commercializing 5G services thus satiating the need for high-end 5G applications for the education industry. In order to enable distance learning, schools are deploying private 5G/LTE network that will serve the purpose of network access inside and outside premises. With CBRS access points installed in schools, network coverage is built and LTE/5G signals are propagated in all directions of the buildings which makes easy to connect for students and continue their learning even from distance.

Here we are talking about a few trends that have evolved as 5G has gradually taken pace over the sector, empowering children with faster and unparalleled learning experiences than ever.

1. Private network leads to numerous use cases deployed in schools and other educational institutions

Private network built on 3.5GHz CBRS band is enabling education sector with uncompromised LTE and 5G quality network for educational buildings and campuses. In these times of unprecedented challenges like COVID-19, schools are leveraging such technology to continue learning and create a more personalized and interactive learning experience for both students and teachers.

Some of the use cases of private 5G network are:

  • Extension of Wireless coverage – High-speed wireless network services can be used to connect best faculty and students in the entire campus and get desired knowledge from them.

  • Tracking of campus transports – With private networks installed on school buses, students can be tracked, enabling wireless data transmission from remote sources with telemetry and allowing them to study while they are on the bus. On the other hand, students can also track their school bus on location and when they will arrive.


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  • Record keeping becomes digital – Ease in updating and tracking records and preventing from catastrophic security breaches are some of the benefits gained from private network.

  • Modernization of classrooms – Experience faster than ever wireless connectivity for an uninterrupted, modernized education inside classrooms.

  • Enhanced security – Reliable and secured wireless connections for e.g., surveillance security cameras, sensors and access control systems communications within the campus safe with continuous network monitoring.

  • EnRoute to distance and remote learning with edge routers - As schools are turning digital, with CBRS in 5G classrooms indoor and outdoor sites for giving their students full access to education, edge routers are state-of-the-art CBRS applications guaranteeing wireless coverage in school areas and rural and undeserved remote locations for students and staff. Balancing both the health and safety of students and teachers is utmost priority and now following the ‘new normal’ way of delivering education with online technologies after the pandemic and beyond is the mission for most of the schools and educational institution nowadays.

    A case in point is where The Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN) is applying a CARES Act grant to create private LTE network enabling students to access network without entering into the campus. UETN is also delivering school districts with CBRS-enabled SIM cards and students with edge routers that functions as a hotspot to connect to the network from anywhere and continue learning.

    Murray City School District accelerated the creation of its own private cellular network to enable remote learning with CBRS using Evolved Packet Core (EPC) which acts as a controller and central brain of private LTE network, placing CBSD radio devices on rooftops of school communities and sending cellular broadband routers (CPE) enabled with SIM to students who were located in their respective homes. They deployed around 6,500 chromebooks with good reliable connectivity within two hours, one day before they closed down their schools due to imposition of lockdown last year in March 2020 as per Melissa Hamilton, Director of Elementary Learning.

  • Private 5G network architecture in schools

    5G-in-schools-private-network-diagram

    2. AR/VR applications enable immersive learning

    The demand for video mixed reality (MR) content (produces new environments with the merger of real and virtual world) is growing continuously and requires low latency and high bandwidth to function optimally. The problem with previous networks like 4G was unable to maintain traffic needed for giving Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) experiences to users. But, when it comes to 5G, no legacy communication technology can withstand in terms of giving seamless and innovative experiences to consumers. For instance, such technology can create human body models allowing medical students to have a grip of anatomy subject in detail. Leading telecom player, Verizon recently awarded $1 million to universities and enterprises who utilized AR/VR technologies, by organizing 5G EdTech Challenge to enhance middle school education.

    3. Higher education recruitment strategies via online technologies

    Attracting students for higher education with recruitment tactics is common, followed by most of the institutions. However, in the wake of the coronavirus disease and everything shut down, there was no other means for educational institutions except remote network access such as private LTE network allowing them to connect and encourage students for online recruitment and get enrolled in higher studies. For example, motivating students to apply on admissions website, enroll themselves in recruitment activities, organizing tele-counseling programs for coordinating on continuous scheduled recruitment calls on regular intervals.

    4. Internet of Things (IoT) saves teachers’ time with smarter 5G classrooms

    It always takes some time to set up devices and gather feedback from students. Now, deployment of 5G private network with IoT i.e., 5G in schools has gained spotlight among educators that allows teachers to log in automatically immediately after their entrance in the classroom, automating daily administrative tasks and getting students’ feedback digitally as all devices are connected through IoT. Other indoor use cases comprise from door locks to lighting controls to vending machines etc. This private network is much more secured operated under educational institution and no sharing of network with any third-party. Hence, high bandwidth gives strong signals constantly during the entire session for delivering lectures, presentations and many more and preventing from frequent call drop and change in focus.

    5. Video downloads is just a matter of seconds

    The modern generation in current world i.e., Gen Z has an addiction to watch videos, and why they should not when there are platforms like YouTube which provides multiple educational videos to learn and gain knowledge from it. Downloading of a high-definition (HD) video is what would take an hour with 4G LTE network can be simply downloaded in seconds or maybe less with 5G network as quoted by NBC News.

    6. Students with special needs are assigned with full-time assistants

    Teachers need to take care of their students with special needs more frequently. Sometimes it is seen that they require full-time assistance to interact with. As 5G is being implemented in robotic applications as well, this will really help in solving such problems. These robots will work as full-time assistants to bolster teachers by responding immediately to assist with learning activities/exercises.

    7. Flexibility in new-age learning

    Every student has own style of learning with different abilities to catch new concepts. With 5G, students are delivered education even outside the classroom at the same speed and responsiveness in the class to their devices – smartphone/laptop. 5G allows students to access the same information – exercises/lessons as their peers irrespective of their distance or location where they are located.

How are telecom operators taking this opportunity to transform education sector?

As the education system is embracing digitization, 5G is playing a prominent role in not only enhancing the current educational systems but also bring on new innovative educational use cases. While new services in the education sector are being driven by expansion of IoT solutions, 5G’s core architecture on services clubbed with technologies like Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC), NFV, network slicing must be enabled to meet the requirement of advance connectivity and data processing and build private network to impart excellent network coverage indoor and outdoor. 5G deployed on network slices can help in creating virtual campus networks (VCN), ensuring maximum devices can be interconnected with strict data security around smart educational campuses. Further, 5G when aggregated with MEC makes easier to process data from edges at low latency rates which results in development of applications like AR/VR.

MNOs can fulfill these educational demands by upgrading their network to support such innovative MEC-based 5G network services and boost connectivity which can further aid in better monetization with 5G investment. MNOs have the opportunity to deliver customized connectivity to users as per their business needs; deliver excellent Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) to trigger new revenue streams. Telcos can also go beyond connectivity to offer unparalleled cost-efficient private LTE/5G solutions for 5G in schools such as edge routers, CBRS devices, fully automated remote-controlled machines (robots) and IoT solutions like advanced tracking systems, big data analytics to analyze large number of students' performance data in less time.

5G for education - technical requirements

  • Wireless backhaul network – Wireless backhaul applications are becoming more familiar unlike wired cable systems. Wireless connectivity is key for education to keep students and teachers connected regardless of where they are situated. The trending application of wireless backhaul is 5G in schools where operators get several opportunities to expand connectivity and provide ultra-secured connections with private 5G network testing and monitoring, making it an ideal choice for digital education.

  • Cellular coverage in premises of educational institutions – Students have inculcated the habit of ‘anytime, anywhere’ for studying, working, as they have readily available smartphones and tablets in their hands, not forgetting the fact, this is reflected in the classroom too. This makes network connectivity across school, college, university campuses as a crucial component so that they can carry out their study activities with their peers or even discuss with teachers in case of any doubts and solve the matter then and there itself without delaying it for long.

  • Throughput – Service providers consider students as the topmost users as audio/visual communications impacts hugely on learning. Hence, for most education-based use cases, throughput requirement is essential for uninterrupted learning in schools/homes.

  • Latency – Educational services rely on real-time interaction between students and teachers and expect to have the response time very minimal i.e., latency should be low to support services like online video lectures.

Conclusion

5G is reshaping the education industry as educators are embracing new learning models to educate their students. On the way to digitally invent, educational institutions have become much smarter with enhanced connectivity and data security. As we sail through the next years, we expect to see advanced version of these CBRS-enabled devices, AR/VR, IoT applications, record keeping, security services used in a sophisticated way and 100x faster than current technology giving immersive online learning experiences to students (remote/on location) across the globe. With this said, new connectivity demands will be on the rise and operators no doubt can discover more and more opportunities to expand their services for private 5G in schools with a motive to give digital access to everyone even who are located in remote corners of the world and have a thirst for achieving knowledge through various means of new-age smart applications.