What is Mobile Broadband?


With the advent of 4G networks, the distinction between cellular networks and the Internet have completely blurred, to the point that for most of the world, there is no distinction made at all. Broadband is considered to be roughly the speed of Internet access one can typically get over a mobile network, and for most people, mobile broadband provides a sufficient level of access, coupled with unprecedented freedom of movement while connected. Because mobile broadband is supremely convenient, people in most of the world access the Internet from a mobile device as their first choice — and we are already at the point that for most people, broadband means 4G speeds, not the gigabit speeds to which research universities are accustomed. In 2012, the ITU estimated 1.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide, with 45% annual growth over the past four years. As the increasing array of always-connected (via 4G) handheld devices — tablets, smartphones, e-readers, and more — become more pervasive, and as access to faster, more open, free networks via direct connection or 802.1x networks continues to fall off or becomes more tightly controlled, the demand for mobile broadband access will increase at the expense of demand for more capable networks. In much of the world, especially in developing countries, it is far easier and less expensive to install mobile broadband infrastructure than it is to provide the fiber needed to support gigabit networks. As a result, it is becoming commonplace in most of the world for learning institutions to rely on cellular networks for Internet access. In the developed world, one of the advantages of BYOD is that the infrastructure does not need to be built, managed, or supported by the institution, which adds another incentive for schools to move to mobile broadband.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Mobile broadband is a missing infrastructure link needed for the transformation of teaching and learning. We don't know how to make it affordable yet, so we tend to focus on creative ways to mitigate the homework gap, such as WiFi busses and community hot spots. However. Mobility is no longer about devices - it's about students, teachers, and citizens. We are all mobile, and we need different devices for different purposes. Devices and networks should no longer be thought of as an either-or, but as a holistic access network where we mitigate against what we can't afford but never lose sight of teachers and students as having access to 1G university computing when they need it and micro-sensors and mobile devices all the time and workstations for 3-D movie making and CAD and laptops for writing and building in Minecraft and wearables for the quantified self. For reasons of equity and for providing all students with the right tool for any job at hand, we need a national infrastructure that includes 24/7/365 access, that includes super-high bandwidth access, that supports secure access from any device or network to educational resources and unlimited access to the Internet. Of course, there are lots of building blocks that need to live on top of that - modules for data collection and visualization (so students can create their own dashboards of their learning); modules for privacy and permissions that address the end user not being the authorizer (&federated identity for minors); way the heck better discovery of content (imagine using the learning registry to automatically and personally populate the resources for a class-wide assignment for a given student based on her preferences, knowledge level, and learning goals) and, of course, market/ecosystem solutions that remove the barriers between developer and user. Plus all the things we can't yet imagine. But back to mobile broadband. Without it, we are trapped in an in-between world of paper AND pixels. We have to carry all the baggage of the old way of doing things which keeps us from moving the new, more efficient workflows and learning models that depend on connectivity. That's not to say we would never use paper - just that we would never use it out of necessity, only out of choice. Before google, test questions were often questions of fact, after Google, we know that if you can google the answer, its not a good question. We expect higher order thinking, synthesis, analysis, comparison from students and having constant connectivity allows them to move their habits and processes from being focused on memorizing facts to being focused on higher order skills. 24/7 access allows students to hone these skills for their personal uses and reasons (what's the best strategy to kill the boss, how do I make a vocaloid video, what does it take to care for a kitten) and then transfer those skills to academic environments (why is there so much disagreement about climate change, how do I make a balloon take a camera into space, how do I create a great introduction to my speech?) - marieb marieb Jun 14, 2015
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Mobile Brodband and BYOD as an element of a bigger access system, rather than a separate phenomenon.- marieb marieb Jun 14, 2015
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • Success in modern life & work requires agency, continual learning, connected collaboration, and managing the interwoven nature of personal time and work time that has resulted from the communications revolution. These skills and dispositions are fostered more deeply and rapidly in an environment of 24/7 connectivity where the Internet and access are used seamlessly for personal and academic reasons than in an environment of limited use that is focused on purely academic (teacher-led as opposed to student-centered) use. - marieb marieb Jun 14, 2015
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • There is an urgent need for academic research into the impact of 24/7 connectivity vs. limited connectivity. In particular, does having access to a community of learning after school disproportionately support those students in poverty who do not have parental support during those times? Does a mobile device used for both personal and academic purposes reduce the culture gap between school and home for those students whose families don't provide much academic support?- marieb marieb Jun 14, 2015
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