The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to the disruption of a range of uniquely vital vertical sectors. This is especially true for K-12 and higher education as schools, colleges, and universities have been forced to close in order to slow the spread of the virus and find alternative, but technologically accessible, ways to reach students–literally.
With students, teachers and lecturers confined to their offices, homes, and dorm rooms to study and teach, many colleges and universities have come to realise that existing connectivity infrastructure just isn’t up to par. They may not understand why, but they know what they need. Question mark is: where to find it, and what to ask for?
Until 2019, really, the traditional means of acquiring connectivity via public or private Wi-Fi has demonstrated limitations, including an inability to efficiently cover large campuses and wide areas, and the dearth of offering security assurances schools and universities need from their networks. All this costs money. Meanwhile, costing even more money, public cellular networks are often a drain to run and, like Wi-Fi, cannot guarantee coverage, capacity, and security requirements, nor provide adequate control of network usage patterns.
So what’s the solution that covers better connectivity infrastructure and efficiency plus cost savings? While there’s been a lot of chatter about just how to solve this, private LTE is one of those buzz phrases that continues to pop up amongst educators and IT administrators, but there’s really been no roadmap. Until now.
Private LTE: What is it and how can it help address the burgeoning challenges in education?
Private LTE is a mobile broadband network deployed to serve a specific organization. It delivers dedicated access with security and managed policies ensuring that only authorized users are allowed to connect with their designated access profiles.
Organizations that deploy private LTE have complete autonomy over who has access, how they access the network, and what they are allowed to do. Networks can be deployed on a single site, for example at a single campus location, or they can be deployed to address wide-area network requirements covering a broad geographic area, such as multiple campus locations.
This makes private LTE an excellent option for the education sector looking to transform its communications infrastructure in order to connect students, teachers, devices, and applications. Indeed, the number of private networks is set to rise globally over the next few years and across all verticals. This is indicative of a growing demand for de-centralized access, services, and applications, and aims to transcend the limits of public networks. But what are the benefits for K-12 communities and higher education colleges seeking reliable, secure, and high-quality connectivity?
Understandably, when it comes to security and data privacy, schools and colleges are concerned with the safety and welfare of their students and staff. In the case of private LTE, network administrators have complete control over what devices are permitted to use the network.
Security policies can be defined from within the school’s IT systems, allowing them to have full ownership and control over this process, reducing their dependency on operators and Wi-Fi providers. To gain entry, students and teachers can access networks using a two-factor authentication process that requires both SIM card and PIN verification for secure access.
Private LTE networks carrying data traffic that belongs exclusively to schools and colleges reduce the risk that data will be compromised by an external cyberattack. This provides assurances that students are protected within a safe learning environment. With greater visibility and control of the data, unauthorized traffic is easily detected and managed in order to preserve the integrity of the network.
Compared to alternative solutions such as public LTE and Wi-Fi, private LTE delivers consistent reliability and dependable levels of performance. This makes it the ideal option to help schools and colleges remain online and operational in the face of COVID disruption.
A major advantage of private networks is that they allow organisations to isolate their requirements from the rest of the mass market; this is important as there is greater assurance of network availability in congested areas, resulting in much more robust connectivity overall. Without interference experienced on public networks, students are able to achieve their academic goals unimpeded by sub-optimal network quality.
On a private LTE network, it is possible to arrange usage prioritisation for priority applications, such as video conferencing. This means that students using the network to browse social media or stream video content don’t slow down the network or the efforts of teachers and fellow students.
Going the distance
Premises run by academic institutions can commonly cover an expansive area, from hundreds of thousands of feet to a few square miles distributed over multiple locations. With college students isolated in dorm rooms and resorting to distance learning as a response to the pandemic, private LTE is the perfect solution to solve the ‘wide area LAN’ challenge as they offer superior range, both indoors and outdoors.
By installing their own private network, academic institutions can guarantee coverage at their locations to a mobile population of students and staff. In terms of reach, private LTE offers better signal strength and transmits across a variety of environments. For instance, signals from the CBRS component of the LTE network infrastructure can penetrate indoor walls, making this type of technology robust enough to support eLearning. In addition, high volumes of data can be carried over long distances which means educational resources can be shared easily.
Continuity of learning
As schools and colleges across the country evaluate their options to avoid serious disruption to students’ education, institutions should consider private networks as a viable opportunity to support new and emerging requirements for flexible learning.
An additional factor about private LTE is that it can be cheaper to run than public LTE, which is great news for school and college administrators who need to assign resources carefully and manage a tight budget. Private LTE provides the education sector with a cost-effective path to a safe and reliable wireless network over which they have full operational control. What’s not to love?
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