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How 5G Will Teach Remote Learning New Tricks


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How will 5G transform remote learning? With a perfect combination of low latency, higher bandwidth, eventual ubiquity and a proliferation of devices.

If the pandemic hit just ten years earlier, our ability to stand up virtual support structures would have proven woefully inadequate. We were pre-Zoom, it was still early days for LTE network adoption and Chromebooks had yet to launch. In the U.S., >25 mbps broadband availability had only hit 50% nationally. But what a difference a decade can make. Though there have been too many wrinkles to count, we’ve largely been able to continue pushing forward safely thanks to technology and hyper-connectivity.

Yet, we know there are areas where we fell woefully short as a society. We were not able to close the digital divide in time to ensure all students were able to effectively access virtual learning environments.

Now, we look to 5G, which has the capability to finally take us that last mile and close the gap.

Going the distance with 5G-powered learning

Coverage shortfalls aside, today’s broadband, LTE and Wi-Fi networks are largely capable of supporting what is currently remote learning’s most demanding need: streaming video. But really, video is about the most bare minimum table stakes for successful remote education. Yes, it is getting the job done to some degree today, but the current dynamic is not sustainable. Kids are meant to engage, interact, go hands-on, change environments. Video conference-based learning largely misses the mark across the board.


5G has the capability to finally take us that last mile and close the gap.

And so 5G emerges as our best bet to not just eventually bridge the digital divide but also redefine virtual learning. Here’s just a taste of what’s to come:

  • One-to-one experiences that scale – AR and VR can transport students from around the world to an operating room

  • Medical training - where a surgeon conducts an intimate training session that offers a front row view of a complex procedure.

  • Bring anyone together to do anything – Jazz artist Jamie Cullum gave the world’s first 5G music lesson, leading virtual budding musicians through a number of his classic songs. 5G will make it possible for people to break down endless collaboration barriers.

  • Travel anywhere or to any time – History lessons are being brought to life via AR-powered museum tours that are transporting students to ancient worlds and giving them a completely new perspective on defining moments in time.

  • Accommodate any student – This is not just for the K-12 set, but for students of all ages. Whether senior citizens that want to complete a degree or special needs students who excel in controlled environments, creating virtual environments brought to life by 4K video, haptics and tactile internet will transform instruction.

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How will 5G get it done? With a perfect combination of low latency, higher bandwidth, eventual ubiquity and a proliferation of devices. It’s about faster upload speeds. Faster time-to-market for fiber-like performance without the digs. Developments like Integrated Access Backhaul that further reduces reliance on new fiber by introducing wireless (watch 3GPP release 16 and 17 for more on this), and cost efficient data transport. And now we’re starting to see the 5G device floodgates open, with Apple’s latest iPhone sporting a critical LiDAR sensor capable of pulling off some of the augmented reality experiences noted above.

But tech advancements alone won’t get us where we need to be. Government policies will be critical in speeding 5G-powered educational outcomes. Whether that’s directing funding via rural 5G connectivity initiatives, subsidizing device costs or mandating “Outside-in” deployment strategies that stipulate frontloading rollouts that benefit the hardest to reach 20% of populations.

Education sector poised to lead in 5G innovation

As COVID-19 sent students home to learn, education was able to adopt technology that had been first developed for and validated by the enterprise. We expect enterprise innovations to continue to expand what’s possible for remote learning, but now it is time for the education sector to also lead with compelling, transformative use cases. With 5G on the way, stakeholders can be confident the connectivity will be there to support them.

Want to learn more about what to expect from the coming 5G Revolution? Download our exclusive report.

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Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas

Head of Market Strategy

Spirent is a global leader in automated test and assurance for the ICT industry and Stephen heads Spirents market strategy organization developing Spirents strategy, helping to define market positioning, future growth opportunities, and new innovative solutions. Stephen also leads Spirent’s strategic initiatives for 5G and future networks and represents Spirent on a number of Industry and Government advisory boards. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with service providers, network equipment manufacturers and start-ups, helping them drive innovation and transformation.