Jul 31 2013

No Vacancy: Rural Colleges Break into the Wi-Fi Market

Pilot programs hope to explore the possibilities of TV White Space Broadband in higher education.

In today’s world, students expect digital everything. From course materials to mobile applications, the demand for digital will only increase. TV White Space (TVWS) broadband could ease the burden on IT infrastructure by providing mobility in innovative ways.

As we reported in the Winter 2013 issue of EdTech Magazine, the rapid pace of technology adoption won’t slow anytime soon:

The expanded variety of tools that students and faculty want to use on campus definitely is driving integration efforts. That's why officials at Quinnipiac University say they are taking ubiquitous BYOD access a step further.

"We're emphasizing bring all your own devices, or B-A-YOD, to students, faculty and prospective students," says Brian Kelly, director of information security and network operations for the 8,500-student institution in Hamden, Conn. "Just in the past 24 months, we've seen a shift toward even Blu-ray players and TVs in dorm rooms going wireless. Where once there were four students in a residence hall room with four devices, those same four students now have 20."

Geography and other physical boundaries will no longer limit colleges seeking to expand their wireless infrastructure. With the introduction of TVWS, rural colleges have a fighting chance to survive the education-technology revolution.

TVWS allows wireless data transmission over unused TV channels. Tech giants like Google and Microsoft are making use of TVWS in developing countries, where broadband is scarce. With the recent shift to a digital television signal, vacancies have only increased.

According to an article in The Economist, vacant channels (i.e., white space) in rural areas “have frequently amounted to 70 percent or more of the total bandwidth available for television broadcasting.” This is a tremendous opportunity for colleges that have limited budgets and are constrained by terrain.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission refers to TVWS as “Super Wi-Fi,” and rightfully so, as it may be the education-technology superhero of the 21st century.

A recent pilot program at West Virginia University pioneered the use of TVWS by implementing the technology on the campus tram network. AIR.U, the Advanced Internet Regions consortium, partnered with the university to leverage the spectrum of possibilities and ensure network reliability.

It’s important that higher education institutions continue to take the risk on emerging technologies such as TVWS. Wider adoption means increased opportunities for student learning and collaboration.


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