Superintendent: ‘Educators are embracing methodologies and innovations that resolve age-old challenges’
In a move that could be replicated for distance learning throughout the U.S., Utah’s Murray City School District (MCSD) on Jan. 14, 2021, became the first school district in the nation to create and launch its own Private Cellular Network (PCN) leveraging CBRS spectrum. Why’d they do it, and how will it affect students and the community? Here are the key points:
Fueled by grant funding and partnerships through the CARES Act, State of Utah, Utah Education and Telehealth Network, Ruckus Networks, and Cradlepoint, MCSD unveiled a Private LTE (PLTE) network, which eventually will provide free Internet access to all 6,000 of its students at no cost to their families.
Why this matters
With children and parents working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, high-bandwidth technologies such as teleconferencing are difficult to depend on. Especially for families experiencing economic struggle, reliable, high-performance Internet access has become a critical need.
“2020 was tough on our students,” said Jason Eyre, MCSD technology coordinator. “We quickly learned that some home internet connections were over-burdened, and that frustrated our district’s digital learning objectives. Household connections where multiple students and other family members streaming Zoom meetings and school work, along with entertainment, simply couldn’t keep up. This LTE connection moves the academic demands to a different network which creates a more efficient internet experience for everyone.”
How the technology works
This network utilizes Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service with CBRS-compatible wireless enterprise-grade routers, also referred to as user equipment (UEs) or customer premises equipment (CPEs). These routers are sent home with the students.
With a couple dozen eNodeB citizen broadband radio service devices (CBSDs) — similar to Wi-Fi access points — set up at strategically selected locations all over town, the school district has a PLTE network that students can connect their district-issued Chromebooks to for free, high-performance Internet access.
This dedicated private network enables the district to affordably give students from all local neighborhoods a centrally managed cellular network that keeps their critical online studying, class sessions, and coursework separate from all other traffic at home.
In short, this PLTE network will help Murray City bridge the digital divide for many years to come.
“This is a new age in education, and while we mourn the loss of so many lives, so much social interaction, and so much learning, I am convinced education is going to come out of this better,” MCSD Superintendent Jennifer Covington said. “Traditional instruction models are shifting, and educators are embracing methodologies and innovations that resolve age-old challenges.”