For students, a reliable internet connection is essential to ensure they can access educational content online, both at school and at home. However, the pandemic has highlighted the extent of the digital divide and the fact that many school districts across states were suffering from a severe lack of internet access. Students without internet were forced to go to a local Starbucks or McDonald’s to access public Wi-Fi, just so they could finish their homework.
An April 2021 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 14% of parents said their children had to use public Wi-Fi to complete homework because there was no reliable connection at home. It is not a sustainable model.
So what are the options available to school districts that desperately need internet connectivity?
Waiting for Wi-Fi
Some school districts will assume they have no choice but to wait for broadband providers in their area to connect the area to fiber broadband. This puts them at the mercy of service provider delays. Service providers must obtain permission from local municipal organizations or the utility company to install fiber in the ground, which often takes a long time, before installation even occurs.
Service providers must also ensure that they can generate a return on investment from their deployments, which can be difficult in more rural areas and often leads to indecision or the deployment of a less expensive and less expensive network. efficient. Additionally, Wi-Fi coverage and performance is often inconsistent and does not provide extensive coverage, both indoors and outdoors, and in a manageable way at scale.
More and more school districts realize that they will have to take matters into their own hands. However, for the above reasons, installing a private fixed broadband network that provides ubiquitous coverage is a costly and complex task. What many school districts fail to realize is that the advent of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum has made it possible to develop private cellular networks, which can overcome many of the challenges posed by high fixed rate.
CBRS brings widespread availability to private cellular networks
CBRS is a 150 MHz wide broadcast band, in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band, available to organizations of all types across the United States for private cellular network (LTE) applications. It can be used to provide standardized cellular connectivity – LTE and 5G – in a specific neighborhood, city or geographic area. This means that cellular coverage is now available without having to rely on local mobile operator solutions to leverage their licensed spectrum. This new cellular band and licensing model helps accelerate deployment of private deployments for a wide variety of organizations, such as school districts. The number of successful deployments for this vertical continues to grow.
Private cellular networks bypass the need for fiber to the home. They can be extended into under-connected areas via fixed wireless, which uses radios to transmit Internet access to/from home or business, as opposed to fiber in the ground. This process is much more cost effective, less disruptive and less risky. Private cellular networks can also connect directly to existing fiber infrastructure.
Private cellular networks can outperform Wi-Fi for indoor and outdoor coverage, provide enhanced security, and become a platform for a long list of use cases that not only serve the school, but also the community at large. wide. And they’re designed to be just as easy to install, thanks to plug-and-play CPE hardware and management software. And thanks to low-cost hardware and the availability of CBRS spectrum, these solutions are now cost-effective and viable for schools and communities across the United States.
Several school districts across the United States are now turning to private cellular networks to provide extensive coverage to schools and student residences. In January 2021, the Murray School District in Utah was the first district to build a private CBRS network, connected via a fixed wireless connection. It provides Internet access to 6,000 students and 25 schools in the region. The City of Las Vegas has also rolled out a private cellular network, using CBRS spectrum, to help bridge the digital divide, connecting area schools, homes and businesses. Prior to the installation, more than 30,000 children lacked internet access and struggled to stay connected to their schools and keep up with their classmates.
This is just the beginning, and several more private network deployments are underway in school districts today. Additionally, Joe Biden approved the infrastructure bill in June last year, with $65 billion earmarked for broadband deployments, such as private cellular networks. What is needed now is increased awareness by government, districts and across the IT industry of the benefits of private cellular networks to generate affordable and widespread connectivity. This will help accelerate the deployment of cellular networks and bridge the digital divide.