While discussion of private LTE and 5G networks has been around for years now, we may finally be on the precipice of “Industry 4.0.” With spending on private LTE and 5G expected to reach $8 billion by the end of 2023, we might hazard a guess that as industries such as utilities and major manufacturers adopt these networks as standard practice, other major business verticals will follow suit.
The question remains about when and how other institutions, such as government municipalities, will embrace private wireless networks.
For instance, until recently, institutions of higher education have focused their energy on complementing fixed Ethernet infrastructure by either expanding or upgrading existing campus Wi-Fi networks. Wi-fi technology, however, is beginning to show its limitations.
The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the basic internet connectivity problem that lies at the heart of both educational success and educational equity.
As Prash Ramani, from Motorola Solutions, recently explained, problems of equity and access to the best in higher education could be solved by universities establishing a strong, private LTE network.
“Private networks can bridge the digital divide bringing equity [in] broadband, providing Internet service to students who are learning remotely,” Ramani said. For those who can’t afford the Internet, or live in a location where service is either not available or performs poorly, a private network offers the most viable solution.
In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently authorized the full commercialization of OnGo services using a 3.5 GHz CBRS band, which means that institutions now have access to 4.9G LTE and 5G technology options without needing to acquire a CBRS spectrum license.
In short, universities can now create private LTE networks that connect students and teachers, as they prepare for full 5G implementation: readying themselves for the establishment of University 4.0.
Eventually, smart universities will become fully integrated into the networks of smart cities. Currently, however, with grants made possible by the CARES ACT, schools, such as Patterson
Unified School District in Patterson, CA have already constructed private wireless networks.
Connecting students and teachers during the pandemic has enabled students in Patterson to continue with their education even when they couldn’t be physically present in school.
Northern Michigan University has undergone a similar digital transformation. Students at NMU receive a special modem that allows them access to their university’s private wireless network.
The advantages of private LTE over Wifi for higher education are numerous: private wireless networks offer higher reliability, pervasive coverage—college campuses have environments that tend to obstruct Wifi signals—but will also enable the full embrace of smart classrooms.
Private wireless networks for universities promise both equity and access in higher education
and an enhanced learning experience for all students.
As Hayden Cohen points out, IoT in higher education can improve the quality of student learning.
While developing their own private LTE will certainly save universities money in the long run, and make hiring professors easier, this is merely the tip of an enormous iceberg of internet-enabled devices that will transform, and improve upon, the ways students learn.
From VR devices in history class that will transport students to the time of Augustus Caesar, allowing students to observe the activity of the Roman Senate firsthand, rather than merely reading about it, to smartboards that will record teachers’ lessons in real-time and allow students to play them back later, IoT applications and devices have the potential to forever transform education as we know it.
Of course, transforming education through IoT technology will require that universities not only bring these technologies to the classroom, but also that their networks can support these devices.
If higher education wants to embrace remote learning and educational equity, and if they have any desire to dramatically improve students’ learning experience through IoT smart technologies, they will need BTSs that can handle thousands of students learning remotely, and support hundreds, if not thousands, of devices operating simultaneously.
Current Wifi access points, with their reliance on round-robin allocations, tend to lose performativity when more than 30-50 devices are actively communicating at the same time.
By comparison, Nokia has developed the Nokia Flexi Zone small-cell BTS, which is known for its macro capacity, and can handle up to 800 users actively communicating at the same time, with thousands more connected.
For industrial IoT, small-cell BTS will be mandatory because once, for instance, IoT sensors become the norm for one function, their use will multiply exponentially.
It’s no different for higher education: on any typical day, hundreds of classes are taught simultaneously. Smartboards, VR headsets, attendance monitoring systems, security systems will need to run at the same time. In such a future, the only imaginable solution would be for universities to develop their own private wireless networks.
Given the multitude of IoT and machine-based devices that will connect in University 4.0, LTE BTS seems the only option.
Still, shouldering the costs of implementation present a real budgetary stress to many universities.
Wifi has become the default network because of its simplicity and cost, but certain factors should also be taken into account.
First, while small-cell LTE BTSs are more expensive per individual unit than Wifi access points, you’ll need fewer BTSs than Wifi access points. Universities can conservatively estimate that they’ll require 5x fewer LTE BTSs than Wifi access points for the same coverage and connectivity. This should offset the increased price of each cell by lowering installation and maintenance costs in the long term.
LTE also requires a core, while Wifi does not. LTE’s core enables device mobility, coordination for multi-cell deployments, better interference management, and improved security and availability. Thankfully, LTE core solutions have been created that custom fit the smaller deployments needed by institutions of higher education.
Furthermore, LTE authenticates users through SIM cards or eSim. Enhanced security is, after all, one of the major benefits of switching to a private wireless network. Most hacks of today involve cybercriminals breaking the authentication methods of Wifi networks.
Finally, while LTE networks are viewed as more complex to manage, self-organizing network (SON) technology has come a long way in recent years.
The fact is, however, even with the factors listed above, universities will eventually be pushed to make the transition to better networks irrespective of its initial cost of implementation.
How quickly and successfully they make this digital transformation—how quickly, that is, University 4.0 becomes a reality—remains for them to decide.
Tanaya is a Senior Content Developer at IoT Avenue who helped to build the content of the site along with several other sites with her compassionate SEO driven content. She is also a HubSpot, certified Content Marketer. She brings her five years of experience to her current role, where she is dedicated to developing the content of different websites.
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