What Is 5G and What Will It Mean for EdTech?
5G, the fifth generation of wireless networks, promises to be the catalyst for a new age of connected technology and network speed.
Experts working to develop the new technology have noted three key areas where 5G will improve on the current 4G LTE networks that are used right now: increased device capacity, faster network speed and lower latency.
Forecasters expect 5G access to increase more dramatically through 2019, with the number of 5G devices becoming more ubiquitous in 2020. And with the race to 5G in full swing, educators are wondering what this network will mean for them.
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5G Greatly Expands IoT Network Capacity
5G will build off of the current LTE structure, but it will also be situated on much higher frequency bands. As these higher-frequency signals are easier to block and do not travel as far, initial plans for 5G deployment use a fixed wireless network, which means installing a higher density of smaller cells.
Developers estimate these cells will power a hundredfold increase in device capacity from current networks and tenfold increase of network density, greatly increasing the potential of IoT integration, according to a CradlePoint infographic.
“Just imagine upgrading your data connection from a garden hose to a fire hose,” Gizmodo reports. “The difference will be noticeable.”
K–12 schools have already started to experiment with IoT integration. However, expanding the capacity of IoT devices through 5G is expected to greatly expand teachers’ abilities in the classroom.
According to a study from education technology nonprofit Jisc and telecommunications giant Vodafone, “IoT applications can also help us change the role of teachers in the classroom, reducing the burden of administrative load on them and allowing them to concentrate more on individuals.”
The report on the study reads: “Being automatically logged into the classroom as soon as entering to the class, being distracted by a signal as soon as losing concentration during lecture, real-time feedback to a lecturer about areas that students still have problem based on the real-time analyses of their notes, all are just few examples of how IoT and connected classroom can enhance learning and teaching experience.”
Lower Latency and Higher Speed Will Expand VR/AR
Along with the ability to connect to more devices, 5G developers boast that the new network will be significantly faster and will greatly decrease the delay time for downloads, expanding the capacity for mixed-reality content and video in the classroom.
Currently, even the fastest network can have a brief lag time, or latency, from when data is sent to when it is received. For new technology like virtual reality, this can create a barrier for teachers looking to include headsets into their curriculum.
With 5G, latency should be reduced to under 10 milliseconds. For perspective, the blink of an eye takes about 300 milliseconds, according to Business Insider.
Such low lag time will greatly improve AR/VR user experiences, making it a more useful tool for teachers in the classroom.
“To take full advantage of VR and AR every single day, this increase is critical,” Daniel Newman, principal analyst of Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group writes for Forbes. “A network that is overloaded with traffic will create latency that VR and AR simply cannot compete with.”
Along with AR/VR, video downloads will also become easier. Video has become a major educational tool for the next generation of students, 59 percent of whom report YouTube as their preferred educational method, Pearson reports.
According to NBC, transfer speeds on 5G have the potential to be 10 times faster than 4G/LTE, which means downloading a 3D video or high-definition movie will go from taking 10 minutes to less than a second.
MORE FROM EDTECH: Here are 4 ways to help get the most from your AR/VR investment!
Companies Invest in 5G Hubs to Research EdTech
To help steer the world toward 5G, communications giants are investing in research to determine how 5G can best be used in different sectors, including education.
After the success of its initial 5G innovation center in New York, Verizon has announced it will be developing four more across the country, each with a different focus.
According to a press release, the innovation centers, located in Waltham, Mass.; Washington, DC; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Palo Alto, Calif., will be “where collaboration and innovation happen. We're opening access to our 5G network because we believe the next-generation solutions that will ride on it will be the result of collaboration and innovation by an entire ecosystem of developers.”
In Palo Alto, resources will be focused on innovations in emerging technology, education and big data. With 5G on the horizon, innovations coming from this center could lead the next generation of education.
Verizon has also issued a challenge for universities and nonprofit organizations to submit ideas on how to utilize AR/VR in K–12 classrooms, offering funding and 5G access to the winners.
“We need to change the educational opportunities and the trajectory of the lives of a lot of students,” says Verizon Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer Rose Kirk in the release. “5G will open doors in the classroom we can’t even imagine yet, which will ultimately give students the power to be more successful, more engaged, and give them access to higher education and new career paths.”