Embracing Education’s “New Normal” with a New Era of Connectivity

This year’s back-to-school season is looking a little different for students and staff from behind the computer screen. Whether it be fully online distance-learning, or a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning, the education industry is facing unprecedented challenges and is in dire need of innovative solutions to help tackle them. We’ve asked CBRS Alliance members with ties in the education space to share their thoughts on the industry’s current state and the major concerns of schools as schools start across the country. Take a look at their insights to learn how OnGo can help address the education industry’s connectivity challenges:

JMA Wireless Vice President of Healthcare and Higher Education Melissa Ashurst explains that the past months have taught us that the digital divide is more of a chasm than we knew. COVID is not going away for this semester, and districts have been rushing to find creative solutions that address the lack of the technologies needed to support virtual learning environments. Fortunately, the FCC fully authorized the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum in January 2020 and OnGo solutions were ready and positioned in time to provide a new means to close the divide. 

With up to fifteen 10MHz channels available on higher power outdoor networks, 1Gbps of connection speed are possible over square miles of area per base station as an extension of the school’s network. This provides enough capacity to support hundreds of students on Zoom calls — or with multiple base stations, thousands of students. Additionally, each and every student has access to their school’s private, secure network dedicated exclusively to educational use, distributing the schoolhouse network and experience to the student’s kitchen table. 

The benefits are tenfold — given the capacity and ability to virtualize networks within the OnGo, schools can also enable additional private network services to support other operations. These operations include security devices, video cameras, connection to WiFi hotspots, school bus connections and asset tracking. As we continue to learn more about the new norm of education, OnGo has the capacity to support the changing connectivity needs as the form of education delivery evolves.

Nokia Head Business Development Private Wireless Networks U.S. Enterprise Ray Sabourin highlighted that Nokia has been guiding and supporting many K-12 school districts throughout the U.S. that are facing the challenge of providing education services this school year. Their priority is to have a plan to provide education, while providing rigorous distance learning capabilities. However, this requires that all students have access to reliable, secure and working broadband service. The main requirements are that the broadband service meet the data throughput for applications necessary for distance learning. 

Some of the additional requirements school districts have shared with Nokia, is that they want to be able to control the use of the broadband service– e.g. controlling devices that can be used by the school-provided broadband services. Beyond controlling the devices, the schools want to control the content of the websites and streaming services that are used on the school district provided broadband service. 

School districts are also very mindful of the cost of providing broadband service to their students and teachers. They would like that expenditure to be an investment that can be reused and leveraged for other use cases for the future needs of the school district, beyond COVID-19 — i.e. connected school buses, smart classrooms and smart campus use cases and technology.  Prioritization right now is to make decisions that meet the immediate need of schools, but also be mindful of implementing the best technology and solution for the on-going needs of the schools, the students and the teachers. 

Nokia’s expectations is that school districts will implement temporary solutions while they perform their procurement due diligence and implement a more advantageous solution that is a long term investment and asset. 

University of New Mexico (UNM) Associate Director of IT Mark Reynolds shared that UNM has seen trends of enrollment numbers decreasing and faculty opposing teaching face-to-face. The biggest concern that UNM has heard is that professors are not necessarily prepared to make fully online learning work. For instance, professors who regularly teach online courses occasionally have a hard time using online learning platforms and due-dates, readings and other materials do not always upload correctly (most likely due to user error). Additionally, students and professors who haven’t participated in virtual learning before may experience learning curves due to bandwidth, applications, work station management and creating content in a virtual environment.

The UNM has devised a back-to-school plan for Fall 2020 that offers in-person, fully online and hybrid (a combination of online and in-person) classes. In order to accommodate the increased offers of online and remote learning, UNM classrooms are being set-up with cameras and personal computers to ease remote teaching efforts by staff. UNM’s network is able to provide broadband speeds of 1GB per laptop, 10GB to the building and 40GB to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to support online teaching applications, like Zoom. The University’s website, Bring Back the Pack, lays out the process necessary for faculty, students and staff to assist in this transition.

MultiTech Vice President of Strategic Development Daniel Quant provided insight on how MultiTech is helping connect students to ensure they have access to critical education resources (i.e. campus portals, e-learning platforms, etc). Their efforts stem from research provided by the Center for Reinventing Public Education and the National PTA, which state that less than 50 percent of U.S. school districts intend to resume full-time in-person instruction and more than 70 percent plan to offer at least partial at-home remote instruction. However, more than 40 percent of students don’t have access to broadband Internet at home. 

To address this, MultiTech is offering the enablement of private LTE for distance-learning with a new line of rugged, plug-and-play OnGo CBRS devices, which are suited to the needs of both school systems and their students. As OnGo private LTE networks complement both public cellular and Wi-Fi networks– and can provide coverage where neither exists, MultiTech is on a mission to enable cost-effective, secure connectivity for students. The necessity of this connectivity is prevalent and supports the narrative that we live in an era where wireless internet access is a utility, and a lack of such connectivity can limit students’ access to an education.

Want to Know More about OnGo for Education? 

If you are interested in learning about education challenges and the benefits OnGo can bring to school districts around the country beyond the impact of COVID, be sure to watch the “CBRS Alliance Analyzes Education Connectivity Benefits” webinar here.


About Alan Ewing

Alan Ewing is the Executive Director of the CBRS Alliance. Alan has over 25 years working in telecom and technology standardization with over 15 years of that time at Nokia. He has extensive experience in working with different industry associations and Standards Development Organizations including: Bluetooth SIG, WiFi Alliance, NFC Forum, ETSI, CTIA and may others. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee.

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