Why campuses need 5G

Simon Farr

The power and speed of 5G open the door to new ways of teaching and learning.

Students smile as they collaborate in a computer room on a university campus.

Over the next few years, 5G will undoubtedly become a pervasive technology for communications across the education and research sectors.  

It makes new, richer, more engaging methods of teaching and learning possible: things like virtual learning spaces, immersive rooms or smart campuses. It can also be difficult to install and deploy – not to mention expensive. 

So why do UK institutions need 5G, and how do they access its benefits in a cost-effective way? 

Does UK tertiary education really need 5G? 

Yes, is the short answer.  

For a start, 5G offers much higher speeds than current methods like 4G. It can also connect more devices and ensure that those devices receive data more rapidly.  

But 5G is about much more than just downloading content faster: it simplifies mobility and boosts accessibility. 

Using 5G, users and their devices can move seamlessly between connections without losing signal. 5G can also serve areas that don’t have high-speed internet by providing reliable remote access to cloud services. And it was developed with support in mind for virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). 

All of which means that this is a technology that has huge benefits to offer the education sector – especially as the trend towards blended learning gains momentum. 

Opening the door to new learning experiences  

The power and speed of 5G make virtual learning a reality.  

The power and speed of 5G make virtual learning a reality.  

Using multiple cameras, screens and audio systems alongside VR technology, virtual classrooms replicate the feel and interaction of physical classrooms for remote learners. They enable students and educators to enjoy immersive classroom experiences and collaborate closely without the need to occupy large physical spaces. 

5G can also turn live event streaming into an exciting blend of viewing and interactive experience: only 5G can handle the simultaneous campus-wide streaming of multiple camera angles to thousands of individuals’ devices. 

Making smarter campuses and healthier buildings 

A smart campus allows colleges and universities to improve the learning environment for staff and students.  

Using 5G to connect sensors in buildings across the campus to the ever-expanding industrial internet of things (IIoT), institutions can generate huge amounts of data on things like temperature, humidity, CO2 and occupancy levels for individual rooms. Rapid analysis of this data allows constant adjustment of individual classroom environments to make them healthier and more comfortable for users.  

It’s even possible to build a digital representation of an entire campus and its buildings which can deliver the data needed to inform long-term decisions on the size, shape and usage of an institution’s physical estate. 

Making better use of data 

5G provides the capacity and speed necessary to process these vast amounts of data effectively and analyse it in real time.  

Especially when set up with mature monitoring solutions, 5G networks deliver transformational insights that can be used to drive continuous improvements campus-wide on anything from decision-making to sustainability. 

Meeting sustainability targets 

5G networks make it possible for institutions to adopt more sustainable practices and decrease their carbon footprints. 

IIoT-connected sensors can quickly detect and address any environmental problems or inefficiencies in buildings and campuses. By allowing the monitoring and control of energy consumption across all campus operations, 5G can save costs and help achieve carbon-neutral targets. 

Reaching more learners 

The pandemic underlined some of the inequalities in education. While video conferencing platforms and technologies such as VR became household tools for some students, others—particularly low-income or remotely located learners—struggled with things as basic as a reliable internet connection or affordable data roaming costs. 

5G’s faster speeds and massive data capacity can help close those digital poverty gaps. 

5G’s faster speeds and massive data capacity can help close those digital poverty gaps. 

For example, in rural areas where fibre connections can be cost-prohibitive, 5G is an effective way of delivering fast internet speeds wirelessly, which allows remote or disadvantaged learners to overcome barriers to participation. 

Improving security

Cyber-security was one of the primary considerations in 5G's development and planning, so resilience is built into its architecture from the ground up.  

5G addresses the security gaps of previous technologies. It protects user identity with improved encryption, for instance, and shields connections from rogue devices that may capture phone calls by mimicking cell towers.  

Lowering the cost of access 

The costs for an institution to either adapt existing cellular infrastructure or build a 5G personal communications network (PCN) infrastructure are high. Not to mention the ongoing maintenance required to ensure connectivity.  

There are other options, though. 

While 5G is expensive now, Jisc is working to lower the cost for institutions and provide access to the new types of technology it supports such as AI, virtual classrooms and smart campuses.  

Delivering 5G services to UK institutions 

To make the advances of 5G available to the education and research sectors in a cost-effective way, we are building a packet core – the internal workings of a 5G network – inside the super-fast Janet Network infrastructure for institutions to share. This multi-tenanted platform will enable Jisc to deliver 5G PCN services direct to institutions from the heart of Janet. 

Jisc is in the ideal position to create services like this for the sector. By combining the power of the Janet Network with the mobility of 5G, we can deliver new ways for institutions to enrich learning, enable innovation and help protect the environment. 

Find out more about how Jisc is working to bring the benefits of 5G to more universities and colleges at Networkshop 2023, June 14-15 at Nottingham Trent University, where we’ll be showcasing our latest innovations.   

About the author

Simon Farr
Director of innovation, Jisc