The future of schools is connected
COVID-19 has fueled education's technological disruption but also exposed – and even deepened – the digital divide. While distance learning and online learning have become a daily reality for nine out of ten pupils and teachers worldwide, many rural areas and low-income communities still lack reliable and affordable internet access. According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) figures, nearly 30 million Americans cannot yet reap the benefits of the digital age. As a result, millions of students face difficulties attending classes and completing assignments online.
Government funding creates opportunities
To minimize the disruption and close the technology gap, many governments have started rolling out COVID-19 relief programs and are investing in or subsidizing initiatives for broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption.
In the US, the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established a $US150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund to help state, local and tribal governments navigate the impact of COVID-19.
A considerable part of this amount will be invested in residential broadband infrastructure to facilitate distance learning, especially in rural and underserved areas. Independent school districts (ISDs) are playing a crucial role in defining strategies and establishing partnerships to utilize these funds for providing students and families with laptops and internet access.
Technology partners provide solutions
Some schools and ISDs are opting for a DIY approach that involves integrating a mix of building blocks such as Wi-Fi access points, internet routers and open-source software into a single network. But many lack the technical skills and resources they need to succeed with these efforts. And although DIY solutions may look cheaper on paper, in most cases they turn out to be more expensive after commissioning.
An alternative, less risky, approach is to partner with established solution providers to build and roll out a network based on proven technology and future-safe industry standards such as 4G/LTE cellular.
In Illinois, for example, Collinsville Community Unit School District #10 launched a private LTE network to bring internet connectivity to approximately 500 students in the Fairmont City and State Park communities. The district partnered with IT solution provider STEPcg to construct a private wireless network based on LTE technology from Nokia.
Another interesting case comes from Bexar County, Texas, where the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Wytec International are building a private LTE network with Nokia as their technology partner. The Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) platform provides reliable, secure, high-performance private wireless connectivity and the ability to efficiently process data. Home-based students access the network through an LTE small cell mounted on a nearby water tower. A short haul microwave link connects the cell to the Nokia DAC core, which is located at the school campus.
The CBRS opens new doors for connectivity
Government funding has been a major enabler for these networks, but the availability of spectrum is certainly another one. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is the result of a joint effort between the FCC and industry to share existing 3.5 GHz radio spectrum and make it available for private networks in the US. The CBRS band can be used for LTE and, because it is unlicensed or lightly licensed, it is applicable and affordable for the education sector, too. It provides a unique opportunity for schools and other public facilities, such as libraries and hospitals, to quickly and cost-effectively deploy LTE-based wireless broadband that provides ample coverage and capacity in suburban and unserved urban areas.
The CBRS is proving to be the best and most viable option for communities in these areas. For example, the projects in Collinsville and Bexar County have both made successful use of the CBRS band. To make deployment simpler we have partnered with Key Bridge Wireless to provide the first pre-integrated turnkey CBRS solution. The solution combines Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) infrastructure from Key Bridge with our private 4.9G/LTE and 5G solutions, which include CBRS endpoints, CBRS-certified radio, transport, core and applications.
Nokia DAC and FastMile power education networks
Based on direct conversations with more than 40 school districts across the US, we understand that that the most prominent requirements for remote education are:
- Fast, secure broadband access for students and teachers
- Easy self-installation
- Content and device control and management
- The ability to track student usage and attendance
By combining our private wireless and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solutions, we can address these needs.
Nokia DAC is an end-to-end digitalization platform for private wireless connectivity and automation. This cost-effective, ready to deploy, private wireless solution combines the simplicity and affordability of Wi-Fi with the superior coverage, capacity, scalability, reliability and security benefits of LTE. It is also software upgradeable to 5G. The school’s IT professionals can configure and manage the system. They can also implement security and traffic policies and rules as they want and manage the access and viewing rights of individual users.
All that is needed beyond this platform is the Nokia FastMile FWA gateway, a small device for converting LTE to home Wi-Fi. Installed at students’ homes, FastMile provides a Wi-Fi hotspot that they can use with any standard laptop or tablet to access high-speed internet service. The FastMile indoor gateway will meet the needs of most students. For homes that are located too far from the Nokia DAC radio, a compact Nokia FastMile outdoor receiver can be installed outside the house – attached to a wall, windowsill or pole – to boost the wireless signal quality and bring broadband inside the home.
The future of education is now
Even in the year 2021, bridging the digital divide is a bigger challenge for cities, school districts and schools than what we may have perceived. But providing cost-effective and reliable broadband access to facilitate distance learning for students in unserved or underserved households is perfectly possible. Thanks to private wireless solutions, there’s no need for costly, time-consuming digging of trenches and cabling to extend broadband to homes. No more hassle and hidden costs with DIY solutions. And IT administrators have full control and visibility of the network, users, devices and applications. The future of schools is connected, and it’s powered by Nokia.
For more information on how Nokia is bridging the education gap, download our “Bridging the digital divide with private LTE/5G for communities” brochure.