Private wireless is the key to K-20 digital transformation

By moving to private wireless now, schools will be ready to support new services that keep pace with the fast-changing needs of students and staff

Educational institutions across the United States are investing in digital technologies that, aside from transforming the learning experience, promise to improve campus operations, security and communications, and open the door to new e-services for students and staff. To realize the promise of digital transformation, schools at all levels (K-20) need solutions that can extend secure and reliable broadband connectivity campus wide.

Schools and higher educational institutions typically rely on Wi-Fi and Ethernet for connectivity. So, it’s no surprise that that many are upgrading or extending their Wi-Fi networks to prepare for digitalization. But Wi-Fi has limitations in important areas such as multi-user capacity, coverage, reliability, security, and mobility. It’s also prone to disruptions caused by interference and obstacles. These limitations could keep institutions from reaping the full benefits of broadband and digitalization.

Fortunately, there’s a better alternative. Private wireless networks (4.9G/LTE and 5G) enable institutions to use standardized cellular technologies and new spectrum options – including unlicensed spectrum in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band – to meet the stringent demands of digital applications. By complementing their existing Ethernet and Wi-Fi infrastructure with dedicated cellular connectivity, institutions can provide broadband connectivity for everyone and everything, and support a new generation of campus services.

A private wireless network offers better coverage than public mobile networks, particularly in rural areas. With private wireless, the institution owns or subscribes to it as-a-service and manages the network, which provides a critical connectivity foundation as part of the campus infrastructure.

Wireless connectivity for the digital campus and beyond

With a private wireless network, a school or institution can provide secure, high-performance connectivity for staff and students and power applications in every part of the campus, including:

  • Classroom and digital productivity tools such as smart boards and smart podiums
  • Safety and security systems such as cameras, smoke detectors, emergency call buttons and surveillance drones
  • Communications applications such as VoIP/PBX, push-to-talk and push-to-video services
  • Digital billboards that can display general, emergency or wayfinding information
  • Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) classrooms that can be accessed remotely
  • Enhanced connectivity for student residences, including affordable high-speed internet, emergency calling and smart home services
  • E-services for dining, event ticketing, housing services, community engagement and more

A private wireless network can also help schools and local authorities bridge the digital divide by bringing broadband access to all students. For example, schools in urban areas could use private 4.9G/LTE networks to provide reliable high-speed internet to unconnected households. In rural areas, schools could combine private wireless with Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) gateways deployed in or near students’ homes. Students could then access the internet using any standard laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Why private wireless is right for K-20 institutions

These networks are an ideal choice for digital campus applications because they can deliver the same levels of reliability, predictability, and security as Ethernet local area networks (LANs) while supporting wireless and mobile communications. Private wireless is a standards-based broadband technology that’s been proven in public networks for more than a decade. In addition, it provides a direct upgrade path to 5G technology, the next global wireless standard, which will bring entirely new possibilities to campuses with higher speeds, lower latency, and massive capacity.

Private wireless networks also offer significant advantages over Wi-Fi with respect to critical communications. For example, 4.9G/LTE technology provides performance that exceeds the capabilities of Wi-Fi consistently. A single small cell can meet the capacity and connectivity needs of hundreds of students, workers, devices, machines, or sensors. It can also support a high density of devices in a given area, which is common in busy campus environments.

Educational institutions that choose this network technology will be able to count on several essential capabilities to take their campuses into the digital era, including pervasive coverage that can overcome obstructions to provide reliable coverage for people, sensors, machines and vehicles throughout the indoor and outdoor campus; predictable performance that can combine high data rates with low end-to-end latency to remain stable and predictable as more users connect and loads increase; and reliable connectivity that handles interference by adapting radio efficiency, device encoding and resource use in real time – delivering up to 99.999% reliability for high-priority users.

Likewise, institutions will also receive high multi-user capacity to provide enough capacity to support several hundred active users and thousands of connected devices per small cell. For reference, the performance of a Wi-Fi access point drops quickly when more than a few dozen devices connect.

Additionally, they can also count on strong cybersecurity, as LTE networks applies end-to-end encryption, strong ciphering and secure authentication for all users and devices, which will be made even stronger with 5G. Lastly, institutions can also receive full mobility as both technologies adhere to global standards that require full, seamless mobility to support use cases that involve moving people, machines, and vehicles – something that Wi-Fi was not designed to do.

What’s more, a private wireless network offers the flexibility, capabilities and performance required to support all types of traffic and a virtually unlimited number of use cases. Any K-20 institution can consolidate its digital services and applications on one private wireless network.

Private wireless deployments can also be tailored to the unique needs of any institution. They can be scaled up or down, adapted to cover indoor and outdoor spaces or integrated with existing Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks as needed.

Some institutions may opt for a DIY approach that involves integrating a mix of building blocks such as Wi-Fi access points, internet routers and open-source software. But many lack the technical skills and resources needed to succeed with these efforts. And although DIY solutions may look cheaper on paper, they usually turn out to be more expensive after commissioning.

Why schools should invest in private wireless now

Rapid technology evolution and adoption are making it essential for schools, colleges, and universities to digitalize the tools and services they use and provide on their campuses. To make a quick and successful digital transformation, these institutions will need new, high-performance wireless connectivity solutions. Private wireless solutions based on 4.9G/LTE, evolving to 5G, technology can address this need by providing the security, reliability, coverage, mobility, capacity, and flexibility that digital applications demand. These solutions are available for deployment today. By moving to private wireless now, schools will be ready to support new campus services that can keep pace with the fast-changing needs of students and staff.

eSchool Media Contributors