Mar. 14, 2019 | By Kirk Eskew
5G—the common shorthand for fifth-generation mobile technology—represents an exponential leap forward in the speed, reliability and capacity of wireless devices. Its effects are predicted to be profound enough to influence every industry we know and rely on, some quite radically.
For higher education, the impact of 5G is likely to be felt throughout every part of the institution, from the registrar’s office to the research lab. While precise use cases are likely a few years away, advancement in connected technology (also known as the Internet of Things or IoT), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) could well change the face of higher education.
Unfettered access to enormous amounts of information, enhanced connections between more types of devices, instantaneous transfer of subtle motion and tactile sensations: These are no longer a futurist’s daydream but a 21st century certainty. And they’re destined to reshape the way tomorrow’s teachers teach, researchers research and students learn.
For the next few years, 5G will be more of a promise than a functional reality. Most campus networks are built on 4G LTE technology and will continue to rely on it heavily while the foundations of a fully functioning 5G network are laid. Still, the promise of a 5G-enabled campus could provide institutions with a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment.
For instance, while prospective medical students may not be able to conduct a virtual surgery when they enroll, the idea that a medical school is actively pursuing that possibility—and could offer it before they graduate—may tip the scales when it comes time to decide which university to attend. With competition for students getting more and more intense, early adopters of 5G may turn the heads of quite a few would-be scholars.
Obviously, students stand to gain from the opportunities that 5G will provide. Imagine taking a virtual walk around an art museum half a world away. Collaborating on a model with engineering students on three different continents to solve a structural problem in a developing country. Combing through the stacks of a dozen libraries from your dorm room. It’s all on the table.
What we consider a university will no longer be confined to a set of buildings in a certain geographical location. The where, when and how of education will be far more fluid and adaptable to individuals, their interests and their needs. Joining classes from off-campus—as well as taking ones beyond it—is likely to become commonplace. If the possibilities don’t boggle your mind, they’ll certainly expand it.
But consider, too, the more mundane aspects of higher education. Publishing course catalogs, scheduling classes, registering students, publicizing student groups and extracurricular activities, assigning work and turning in papers, maintaining a safe campus, making sure a meal plan is up to date, remembering to wake up for that 8 a.m. survey class you’re taking or teaching—it can all be simplified and customized by faster, more diverse, more reliable mobile connections.
Certainly, there must be drawbacks. But apart from the time, expense and logistics of building a 5G network on campus, it’s hard to imagine many. Private networks like the ones found on college campuses can be virtually impenetrable to hackers, making them far less prone to the kind of security risks associated with larger, public networks.
One intriguing question, though, is whether these rapid technological advances will diminish the appeal of the traditional, brick-and-mortar university system, or if their adoption can help burnish a school’s reputation.
Academics will likely debate this for a long time.
A 5G future is coming. We surveyed more than 300 IT leaders to understand their thoughts and attitudes. Learn how they’re preparing for 5G and what it could mean for your business.
Kirk Eskew is a director of telecommunications services with TEKsystems. He has over 20 years’ experience in professional services, talent management and sales leadership.