5G: What does the future hold for higher education?

High speed wireless mobile data 5g concept image.
Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • The introduction of 4G (fourth generation wireless network) in 2009 expanded the messaging and the internet access to faster download speeds.
  • Later, 5G has resulted in a quantum leap in the speed, reliability and capacity of wireless devices with a radical impact on markets and sectors.
  • But 5G has drawbacks, too, including time consumption, high set-up costs and logistics of building a network on campus.


As the universities’ admins work to expedite safe reopening of higher education institutions, they should re-think decades-old, lecture-based approach to teaching and entrenched institutional biases.

Last year, a British tech start-up gave examples of how advances in mobile technology (MT), internet of things (IoT) and touch internet (TI) will be a game changer not only for the mainstream markets but also education and gamification sectors.

The introduction of 4G (fourth generation wireless network) in 2009 expanded the messaging and the internet access to faster download speeds. Later, 5G has resulted in a quantum leap in the speed, reliability and capacity of wireless devices with a radical impact on markets and sectors.

 In societies where it has been adopted, such as China, its effect on higher education is profound, taking shape in new agile forms such as IoT, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) — tools credited with allowing expeditious and virtually less disrupted access to large datasets, enhancing device-to-device connections and instantaneous transfer of subtle motion and tactile sensations, reshaping the modalities of teaching, research and learning.

Isolated subtle pretence

 We are staring at a future where 5G will be more of a promise than a functional reality. It will reinvigorate the student recruitment infrastructure. For instance, while prospective medical students may not be able to conduct a virtual surgery when they enroll, the idea that a medical school is actively pursuing that possibility — and could offer it before they graduate — may tip the scales when it comes time to decide which university to attend.

Isolated subtle pretence

The idea is to detach “higher education” from an isolated subtle pretence confined to a set of buildings in a certain geographical location to a far more fluid concept that is agile and adaptable to scholars from different societal orientations, unique interests and a set of uniquely untapped needs.

What’s more, 5G will engender virtual off-campus classes equipped with tools for connecting students to artificially intelligent personalised systems, reduce the administrative burden and allow professors the opportunity to be more student-centric.

Activities like publishing course catalogs, scheduling classes, registering students, publicising student groups and extracurricular activities and assigning work will be made easy and customised.

But 5G has drawbacks, too, including time consumption, high set-up costs and logistics of building a network on campus. The private 4G LTE networks on most college campuses are virtually impenetrable to hackers, making them far less prone to the security risks associated with larger, public networks. But 5G’s benefits outweigh these bottlenecks.

Will 5G diminish the appeal of the traditional, brick-and-mortar university system or will it help to burnish our universities’ reputation?

Mr Onyango is a pharmaceuticals sales rep at GSK. charlesdarwin040@gmail.com