How Industry 4.0 is transforming higher education

5G and smart campuses have an influential role in training an Industry 4.0-minded workforce, which in turn strengthens society as well as local industries

The current school system was not designed with modern technology in mind. In a column published in The Guardian in 2017, British journalist George Monbiot noted that today’s schools and universities were established for the needs of a factory workforce in the 19th and 20th century industrial eras. Needless to say, many experts feel that schools today are not designed to generate the type of creativity and innovation required in a workforce for the 21st century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (also referred to as Industry 4.0).

To combat this discrepancy, many government agencies deployed global strategies to bring digital skills into education, but implementation looked set to stretch over several years.

Then 2020 arrived, and the pandemic changed everything. As industries continued to push their digitisation efforts forward, education lagged behind. However, education — especially higher education — is yet another ‘industry’ sector that should embrace digital transformation, because it could greatly reap the benefits of Industry 4.0.

The future of education is connected

With a focus on accessing services and content digitally, institutions will have to evolve their wireless communication infrastructure to offer high-performing services to allow students, academic staff, researchers and operations teams to function more productively.

However, some of these new services and operational applications have highlighted some limitations in traditional WiFi networks, which include reliability, security, predictable performance, coverage, multi-user capacity and mobility.

To keep pace with new demands and get the most from their networks, higher education will have to design and deploy a holistic and integrated wireless infrastructure that includes private and public mobile networks, complemented by WiFi, Ethernet CAT cables and passive optical local area networks (POL). As these respective technologies have different capabilities, they will support different use cases and applications.

By adopting state of the art network infrastructure, colleges and universities will be able to better serve the changing needs of students, academic staff and researchers.

Private wireless networks making higher education campuses smarter

Private wireless networks, based on 4.9G/LTE (the latest generation of 4G cellular broadband) and eventually 5G standards, can make it easier and more cost-effective for higher education institutions to accelerate their digital transformation and support a wider set of industrial and mission-critical services and operational capabilities.

Students and faculty members need affordable high-speed internet for accessing e-learning and digital productivity tools on their mobile devices — on and off campus. With private wireless, classrooms and auditoriums can be equipped with services such as smart boards, smart podiums or smart lighting that require connectivity for data sharing and control. Remote learning can even be enriched with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) classrooms and laboratories, accessed from anywhere in the world.

Additionally, there are many network-enabled opportunities to make higher-education campuses safer and more liveable for students, teachers, operations staff and visitors. Think, for example, of deploying drone- or robot-based surveillance cameras, smoke sensors, fever detection with thermal cameras, emergency call buttons, and push-to-talk or push-to-video group communication applications. Universities could even use connected digital billboards to spread information and emergency announcements.

Educational institutions can also use private networks to secure point-of-sale terminals to support ticket sales, food and beverage services, concerts and events. These capabilities can further be complemented with drone- or autonomous vehicle-based delivery services.

Even campus operations and facility management could be transformed through building automation, environmental control systems, and data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that manage on-premises infrastructure, water and power. Reliable broadband coverage and connectivity can also help institutions develop new campus-wide logistics systems using automated guided vehicles (AGVs).

It’s clear that Industry 4.0 is no longer a visionary term for future innovation

This is just glimpse into some of the many use cases that private wireless networks can help institutions achieve.

Powering research, education, collaboration and economic growth

Beyond the classroom, academic research and education can bolster a region or a country’s innovation, economic competitiveness and growth. Therefore, advanced research and education (R&E) networks are key assets for both educational institutions and industries. When leveraged, high performance, private wireless networks and edge computing platforms can enable ‘living labs’ for researching, developing, testing and demonstrating new 5G- and IoT-based applications, business models and use cases for real-world scenarios — bringing education into the everyday digital transformation of industries.

These capabilities will boost industry-academia collaboration and eventually, enable critical sectors like energy, healthcare and first responders to reach new levels of efficiency and productivity.

Recently, several universities and research institutions around the world have launched 4.9G/LTE and 5G initiatives on their campuses or announced collaboration projects with industry and public sector partners.

Here is a sampling of a few:

  • In Australia, the University of Technology Sydney is building and running a state-of-the-art 5G innovation facility at the university’s Tech Lab campus.
  • The University for Business and Technology in Kosovo is rolling out 5G private wireless network to enable research and testing use cases driven by immersive, Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technologies.
  • In Germany, the Technical University of Kaiserslautern is also deploying a 5G standalone (SA) campus-wide private wireless network, while the 5G4KMU project, which spans five leading research centres in the state of Baden-Württemberg, is providing small- and medium-sized enterprises with an expert introduction to 5G to help them develop new 5G-based products, applications and business models.
  • And in the UK, the University of Strathclyde has joined forces with Nokia to help utilities prepare power grids for emerging technologies through improved communications capabilities.

Instead of having schools that cater to 19th century factory workers, it’s time for them to prepare today for tomorrow’s digital workforce.

It’s clear that Industry 4.0 is no longer a visionary term for future innovation. These changes can be implemented at institutions around the world right now with private wireless, and education is the next vertical to see this shift toward Industry 4.0 unfold.

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