Jan 21 2019

With 5G Networks, Your Campus Meetings Might Become Virtual

At faster-than-brain-signal speed, next-gen wireless will support a whole new realm of possibilities.

With 2020 just around the corner, we’re nearing the point at which experts predict broad availability of 5G wireless networks. 

Increasing data speed and responsiveness by upward of 1,000 percent, a fully functioning 5G network would be a game-changer in the way colleges use, manage and set up everything from Internet of Things devices to data-heavy applications. 

Consider that a human brain signal takes 14 milliseconds to travel, says Jason Leigh, an IDC senior research analyst for mobility. With recent tests showing signals taking less than 10 milliseconds to travel on 5G, he says, “Network responsiveness could be even faster than your brain.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: Technology trends universities should expect in 2019.

5G Tests Promise Better Performance for Urban and Rural Campuses

5G uses the millimeter wave (mmWave) portion of the spectrum, between 30 Gigahertz and 300 GHz. The signal covers distances much faster than 4G and has greater capacity. 

But it covers smaller areas and doesn’t move as well through solid objects. So, instead of relying on a central 4G cell tower, wireless carriers will have to install a higher density of smaller, portable towers to carry 5G signals

“Today’s average 4G tower can support about 2,000 connections at one time,” says Leigh. “With 5G, you could support more than a million connections per square kilometer.”

Network responsiveness could be even faster than your brain.”

Jason Leigh Senior Research Analyst for Mobility, IDC

Ted Rappaport, a professor and NYU Wireless founding director, led a research project in Manhattan to demonstrate the effectiveness of 5G signals in an urban campus environment. His team found that mmWaves could work even better than current wireless networks. 

But rural campuses also could benefit from 5G capabilities, Rappaport says. “5G equipment could allow immediate replacement of aging copper wires with ‘wireless’ fiber. Tests done in Virginia found the distances reached by the mmWave signal were much greater than people thought — up to 10 kilometers.”

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5G Presents Challenges and Opportunities for Legacy Networks

Although nationwide 5G coverage is still a few years away, IT leaders can start preparing now.

“Educational institutions should evaluate the opportunity to ditch legacy hard-wired networks supporting classrooms and dormitories, and the related complexity and cost,” says David Hemingson, partner and leader of the higher education and academic medical center divisions at advisory firm ISG. 

It’s also time to rethink agreements with telecommunications carriers. “5G presents a new opportunity for schools to host small cells, but also new challenges, as they will have to deal with carrier requests and a new business model,” says Phil Wilson, managing director for telecommunications strategy and operations at Deloitte.

Once the logistics are sorted out, both educators and researchers will be able to explore an entirely new realm of possibility. 

“We have hints of what we’ll see,” says Rappaport, pointing to applications such as virtual meetings and 3D imaging. “It could give us the ability to interact in a tactile way with remote objects with virtually no latency, even across great distances.”

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