Teachers, administrators, students, and parents have shown incredible resourcefulness over the past couple of years. Making the switch to virtual or hybrid learning in response to COVID-19 was no easy feat, and stakeholders in the education system worked together to update the ed-tech infrastructure which now serves more than 55 million students remotely. By May 2020, surveys showed that more than 95% of teachers in the U.S were offering some form of remote learning in response to quarantine and social distancing guidelines.
With this more widespread adoption of non-traditional, tech-enabled learning, new challenges have emerged that have the potential to create added pressure on families and school systems. As demand for flexible learning models has sharply risen in recent years, elementary and secondary education is one business sector that stands to benefit from the adoption of Private LTE technology.
Why Private LTE?
Private LTE is a relatively new frontier in wireless communication. In the United States access to that frontier is provided in the CBRS spectrum band recently made accessible to the public by the FCC. Enterprise organizations can now build their own private LTE networks to provide high-speed, secure connections for their people, systems, and equipment, in even the most remote locations. Proponents of IoT and connected technologies are excited to see what innovations arise from widespread implementation of CBRS technology, due in part to the vast array of use cases being discovered across nearly every industry, from manufacturing to agriculture.
Bridging the Digital Divide
One of the greatest obstacles to widespread implementation of remote and hybrid learning models is the Digital Divide; a confluence of socioeconomic factors that results in not all students having equal access to high-speed internet or the devices necessary to access their school’s programs and applications. Multiple studies have found that engagement with online learning was significantly lower in less affluent school districts, and the most common causes were related to limited access to necessary technology and/or network infrastructure.
Private LTE networks on the CBRS band are particularly suited to covering wide areas, as the radio signals travel farther in outdoor settings and are able to maintain their strength as they pass through solid objects. If schools in rural areas or underserved municipal districts are able to build their own high-speed networks on the CBRS band, they can bridge the connectivity gap and give students equal opportunities to make the most of their virtual classrooms.
Increased Security and Privacy
Data privacy is a concern for most connected applications, but when it comes to education there is added pressure to protect students and their information from bad actors. Private LTE networks are more secure than Wi-Fi networks, requiring any device requesting access to be authenticated through SIM verification before a connection is allowed. School systems with their own Private LTE network can issue secure devices, built specifically for the needs of the student. Without these devices, individuals attempting to access private student data for nefarious purposes will be unable to access the network. Customizable devices designed specifically for private networks also give school administrators the power to limit what content students can search for, in compliance with the regulations set by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Student Safety and Transportation
High-speed private LTE also offers unique ways to increase security through accessory means. The low latency of high-speed LTE can support the sort of high-quality video streaming needed for surveillance cameras placed throughout school campuses of all sizes. Buses and other modes of school transportation can be outfitted with small cells as well, turning them into mobile LTE hotspots that can provide real-time route tracking and student pickup and drop-off information.
Investing in the Future
It’s important to remember that building and implementing a brand-new network based on new technology is an intensive process that requires a lot of technical expertise and funding. While it is estimated that private LTE networks have an overall lower cost of ownership for educational systems than traditional Wi-Fi or the LTE offered by mobile network operators, building out the network infrastructure and developing the end-user devices that students will use will still require sizable investments of both time and resources. Off-the-shelf products aren’t going to cut it because they aren’t designed to operate on private LTE networks, so technology providers with the skill to create customized solutions will need to be consulted.
Despite the potential hurdles to overcome with regards to implementation, establishing these networks now will enable generations of students and educators alike to optimize their participation in remote and hybrid learning models, all while improving security and the overall user experience. As administrators and teachers continue to optimize their curriculums for the virtual classroom, campuses can be brought into the 21st century.