From autonomous cars to social media hacking, the media increasingly covers technology stories as mainstream issues. Despite this, there is remarkably little information available outlining how these technology trends will affect education. This is especially strange, given the importance being placed on these trends. One such example is 5G.
What Is 5G?
5G is the new generation (that’s where the “G” comes in) of cellular network data transmission, the standards for which are now agreed on. Initial trials have commenced overseas. There will be some functioning networks available in major cities (which major cities will benefit depends on whether you’re with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile). 5G phones will be available in the coming months, and they’ll be able to connect to 5G networks sometime in 2020 – that’s less than two years away.
5G offers faster download speeds than are available in current 4G phone plans. 5G also has features we have not been led to expect from previous generations of upgraded data speeds. These include reduced power (device battery) requirements and also “low latency,” which improves on current wireless network responsiveness. With 5G, for example, when a user makes a request from their phone, the network will respond about 10 times faster than the blink of an eye. (That is, network response times will be approximately 1 millisecond.) Importantly, this is below the human threshold to even detect a delay!
How Could 5G Affect Classroom Learning Materials?
Many classroom computing and internet requirements are already provided for with WiFi, a service to which 83% of US classrooms currently have access. The question is then, in what way is 5G better than WiFi?
To begin with, 5G is much faster than WiFi. It’s potentially up to 10 times faster. To give you some idea of the bandwidth involved with 5G, it’s going to be possible to download an hour-long, high-definition TV show in less than five seconds. Over 4G, the same content could have taken a minute.
Similarly, 5G puts access speeds into the realm where they are faster than the time taken for people to realize a delay. Existing facilities like YouTube have created free depositories for hundreds of hours of educational material. The content for many university degrees, including some at Harvard, are now largely free. To these, 5G will add new types of content, from augmented reality to virtual reality – tools whose bandwidth requirements are currently beyond commonly-available WiFi technology. Similar libraries of content will be created in formats appropriate to these burgeoning technologies. 5G will provide “immediate” access (from users’ points of view) to internet-based educational content, which can be used to reinforce student learning and engage and potentially even supply disenfranchised children with those materials.
The Impact of 5G on Classroom Technology
5G will change the location and cost of classroom technology. At the moment, it makes sense to keep processing power and data storage (especially of large files) on the edge of the cloud – for example, in a classroom or on your phone.
With zero perceived delay in access, even for those large files, 5G will change the economics of classroom technology, making it more sensible to have cheaper equipment in schools and expensive facilities like storage networks and heavy processing done in the cloud.
Chromebooks have been a phenomenal success in the classroom. Their low purchase cost, lower total cost of ownership (compared to traditional laptops), and their reliability have allowed students to connect to educational materials in classrooms where, previously, they may not have been able to. Just as Chromebooks are better laptops for schools, 5G will allow every classroom phone, hard drive, and smart TV, to be cut down in exactly the same way.
Summing Up the (Potential) Impacts of 5G
5G represents an upgrade to current WiFi capabilities. It will provide, most fundamentally, access to engaging and often entirely new types of internet-based content including virtual and augmented reality. It will change where we keep classroom technology and potentially lower the cost structures schools face in keeping up with tech trends.
5G won’t solve all the problems that schools face, but it could have a real impact on the way students learn and the machines they learn on. It’s hard to judge how these technologies will affect us until they’re here. As with many other variables which change outside the classroom, it is the responsibility of district and campus leaders and teachers to stay on top of 5G in at least a peripheral sense.
This is a guest blog by Neil Aitken. Neil is the editor in chief for WhatPhone.com.au. He has written on the subject of telco trends, innovation, and SIM plans for Business Insider, The Sydney Morning Herald, Vodafone Australia, and Savings Room, one of Australia’s leading blogs.