‘Schools need ultrafast broadband,’ says Evan Wienburg

Evan Wienburg, CEO and co-founder of Truespeed, talks about the need for ultrafast broadband access for schools nationwide

'Schools need ultrafast broadband', says Evan Wienburg

 

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Name: Evan Wienburg

Job title: co-founder and CEO of Truespeed

 

I was inspired by some fantastic teachers during my school years, but aside from a few shiny PCs coveted by the IT and science departments, multimedia in the classroom amounted to an outing for the overhead projector and the use of multi-coloured marker pens on the whiteboard. And just to push the boat out every so often, there was the dreaded click, play and pause from the audio cassette player catching you out with a tricky French listening test.

Thankfully, things have changed – for the better. A worldwide web of possibilities has opened up in classroom teaching, planning and learning since broadband burst onto the scene 20 years ago. Now there are opportunities for ultrafast broadband.

But having spent hours carefully planning a Kahoot! quiz on The Norman Invasion, or diligently researching YouTube clips of the Favela Bairro project to illustrate how lives in Rio’s slums have improved, too many teachers are having to contend with unreliable classroom connectivity and the frustrations of spinning wheels and buffering percentages. This is not only hugely time-consuming but very disruptive as pupils’ attention quickly begins to drift.

… too many teachers are having to contend with unreliable classroom connectivity and the frustrations of spinning wheels and buffering percentages

The need for secure, reliable and future-proof broadband is paramount to providing a sound learning platform and goes far beyond technology-enriched curriculums. For school administrators and finance departments, the internet and availability of agile, cost-effective software-as-a-service tools have revolutionised the day-to-day running of schools, helped extend and improve communications with parents and carers and streamlined processes with school contractors and suppliers.

Need for ultrafast broadband

But there is still room for improvement. A new internet speed study conducted by Business Comparison researched and ranked 33 countries according to their average broadband speed and placed the UK in a sluggish 26th place. It’s very welcome news that in order to meet the government’s goal of nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, £5bn has been allocated for the hardest to reach 20% of the UK, but the unfortunate truth is that many pupils and schools will still be left with substandard connectivity.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for a robust, nationwide digital infrastructure. Specifically, it has brought into sharp focus the educational impact on pupils who can’t access online classes and other digital resources and essential learning environments that schools and teachers provide.

Children based in schools outside of major urban conurbations, where infrastructure is easier to deploy, are disadvantaged by limited access to online resources

We desperately need a future-fit infrastructure able to hold its own in a household where multiple children are accessing a variety of educational platforms and devices, while working parents are still able to host video calls or run complex digital programmes.

Plus, children based in schools outside of major urban conurbations, where infrastructure is easier to deploy, are disadvantaged by limited access to online resources. Many schools in rural areas are forced to pay over the odds for substandard broadband services delivered by providers who don’t see these communities as a priority.

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Connect schools first

And it’s not just a rural issue. Delivering ultrafast broadband to schools in historic cities and towns bulging with listed buildings and narrow streets is challenging from a network build perspective but perfectly possible and needs to be a priority. Indeed, there’s a strong case that within every local community, schools should be connected ahead of any other residential or commercial facilities in order to give children the means to access the online tools they need during the school week at least.

Given that delivering a first-rate education requires a reliable network, there are a few critical points to bear in mind to boost broadband and ensure the best possible connection:

1. Full fibre gets top marks
Whether you’re downloading a clip from BBC Bitesize or implementing coding in ICT, the answer is fibre optics, aka full fibre. Using a full fibre service will put an end to buffering and spinning wheels. In short, it’s ultrafast – giving reliable, gigabit-capable connectivity and lightning quick identical upload and download speeds, no matter the number of devices connected to the network.

2. Beware full fibre cheats
Not all fibre broadband services are created equal…

FTTP is short for Fibre to the Premises: Pure fibre optic lines flow past the school gates and right up to school reception, making it the fastest and most reliable type of fibre available.

FTTC is only a partial full fibre service. Short for Fibre to the Cabinet, the ‘last mile’ connection to the school building from the green cabinets sited in many streets is actually an old-fashioned copper line. Part-copper lines offer a detrimental, less reliable service with network blips, contention with other users and highly variable upload and download speeds. These services, often confusingly labelled ‘superfast fibre’ or ‘fibre broadband’ are imitations of full fibre, and still rely on these slower, inferior part-copper lines for the final connection.

3. A* for Active Ethernet
A dedicated fibre-optic cable – using Active Ethernet technology – will provide a supremely reliable, high-performance, contention-free connection. Some providers ‘subdivide’ the optical fibre coming out of the cabinet and then share it between multiple premises. This can lead to digital traffic jams at peak periods, slowing down the service.

There are a growing number of community-oriented, locally-based infrastructure providers that are rolling out full fibre connectivity and stepping up where the traditional market has failed. Some will also provide eligible schools in communities passed by their new ultrafast broadband networks with free broadband for life.

There’s a strong case that within every local community, schools should be connected ahead of any other residential or commercial facilities

From Adobe to Quizlet, Parentpay to Teams, reliable and improved digital connectivity in all schools is vital to keep the entire school community on the digital road to success. Underpinned by an ultrafast, fibre-optic infrastructure, the worldwide web can truly become a student’s oyster, introducing them to a wealth of learning possibilities and perspectives as well as access to research and advice on future choices as they cut school ties and enter the next phase of their learning.

As education – in the classroom and at home – becomes increasingly reliant on online platforms and resources, we need to ensure that every child growing up in rural or harder-to-reach locations is afforded the same opportunities to learn and thrive as their urban counterpart.


You might also like: Vodafone teams up with Lancaster University to boost connectivity for disadvantaged school students


 

Truespeed delivers gigabit-capable, full-fibre broadband to homes and businesses in harder-to-reach villages and cities across South West England.

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