Private networks can play an important role in the connectivity solutions for higher education institutions as data demands—and stress on networks—grow.
Universities are hotbeds for ideas and innovation—and also have a nearly insatiable need for connectivity. From labs to classroom A/V equipment, student cell phone coverage to sports arenas, there are a growing host of demands on the networks of these facilities.
Universities have many different IT needs and have to take a holistic view of connectivity, in order to deliver a seamless performance on both public and private networks. Fixed connections and Wi-Fi alone won’t be enough to meet the demand. The latest generation of mobile wireless in 5G, with its fast speeds, low latency and superior security, can be the missing piece.
Connectivity will be in high demand on campus
Sprawling university campuses can be a difficult environment in which to achieve reliable, secure connectivity. A private 5G network can serve as an extension of a school’s IP network, untethering applications from hardwired connections and students from Wi-Fi signals that ebb and flow in strength depending on what corner of the quad they’re standing in.
College IT administrators also need to stay ahead of the coming wave of connected devices. To a great extent, they’re already here—a 2018 Center for Digital Education (CDE) survey showed that more than three-quarters of college campuses at the time were either “smart” campuses or on their way to becoming so. Internet of Things (IoT) applications on campus can include everything from emergency notification systems to building HVAC control, to smart ID badges for students and faculty. The COVID-19 pandemic also rapidly accelerated the use of online portals connecting students both on and off campus.
To power all those devices, a school needs a wide coverage network that gives every inch of campus reliable connections. Especially in outdoor environments, 5G networks powering a “Fixed Wireless Broadband” solution can provide strong, secure coverage with far less access points than a traditional Wi-Fi setup. For example, indoors the ratio is typically 5 Wi-Fi APs to 1 LTE/5G AP and for outdoor locations, 7 to 1. This is due to the power regulations set by the FCC as well as the technology advantage of cellular equipment over Wi-Fi.
Mobile broadband can power use cases from the everyday to the cutting edge
One example of how 5G private networks can help university campuses meet their needs is an athletic venue, like a football stadium. 5G equipment allows network slicing, meaning that different functions (arena security, POS for food vendors, tablets on the sidelines, etc.) all have their own dedicated network resources. A single Wi-Fi network may be too congested or too weak in spots to meet all these needs.
And this can also apply inside the building, for things like smart whiteboards, or A/V equipment beaming in an expert to a classroom. A mobile broadband connection gives the security and speed of fixed Ethernet while allowing equipment to be moved from room to room. This can also be applied to public safety technology—things like wireless cameras that can be redeployed during an event, or drones for autonomous patrols of outdoor areas.
Private networks aren’t a replacement for Wi-Fi, but a compliment and extension of the school’s existing IP network. A 5G-powered private network can serve as a strong compliment to public mobile broadband, and as IT departments look to “cut the cord” on things like security cameras and A/V equipment, it can provide connectivity that’s just as strong and secure as a hardwired connection.
Future-proof university networks with 5G
Private 5G networks are only part of the overarching connectivity solutions for a university campus. But there are indirect cost savings to leaning into such a model—for example, public LTE is needed for connectivity outside the school, but costs could be reduced if 80 percent of the data plan is used at the campus. (Studies have shown most wireless subscribers use their phones indoors, meaning they would therefore save on data plans if they used their private wireless networks instead of the public network when on a university campus.)
The use cases detailed here are just the ones that are prolific today. We know driverless vehicles, delivery robots and other cutting-edge tech is on the horizon. In the coming years, universities will want to demonstrate tech proficiency to attract top students and faculty talent to campus. Things like AR/VR, smart classrooms, and virtual instruction will become the norm. Institutions will also look to things like drones for safety and security. A 5G private network can help lay a powerful, secure foundation for these technologies.
Every university is in a different stage of bringing students back, as higher education works out what life will be like after the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether students are fully returned to the classroom or on a permanent hybrid model, one thing will be consistent—everyone, from students to faculty, will expect good connectivity. If a university wants to stay competitive and attract top students and staff, it needs to offer robust, secure and high-speed connectivity on every inch of campus. A 5G private network is a key part of that solution.