The education sector is transforming itself as digitalisation reshapes industries and nations. Educational institutions are focused on teaching not just for knowledge acquisition but to prepare learners to be relevant for the future.
Tertiary institutions are core to all of these. They are adapting to these changes and adopting technologies that make their campuses fertile grounds for nurturing a new generation of students equipped for the next generation.
We all learnt from COVID-19 that learning is no longer confined within the walls of a classroom or lecture theatre. From student dormitories and anywhere on the campus, lessons, interactions, and discussions can be conducted online.
To facilitate this on a basic but critical level, reliable and continuous connectivity is essential to cover the entire campus, even in open spaces such as fields and other outdoor sports facilities.
We are focused on connectivity but with security. Campuses must be safe for lecturers, students, and staff. They need to be prepared to deal with any security threat – from dealing with unauthorised personnel to discovering suspicious objects to cyber threats.
We are also focused on safe, secure connectivity delivering sustainability. Sustainability requires using clean energy and lowering the carbon footprint.
All of these things need a campus to be a smart campus, which Gartner defines as a physical or digital environment in which humans and technology-enabled systems interact to create more immersive and automated experiences for university stakeholders. A smart campus provides swift connectivity that is safe and sustainable.
5G as the backbone
5G is ultra-reliable, high speed and low latency, and can provide the backbone of a smart campus. 5G is designed for today’s world of social media, video streaming, online lessons, and video calls. 5G has the capacity for up to one million connected devices per square kilometre. That’s an impressive upgrade from around 2,000 connected devices per square kilometre with 4G.
One cannot think of 5G as just a network. It’s more than that. 5G is packed with processing power to bring computing right to the edge.
Think video analytics, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) and drones. 5G has the power to handle these and more wherever the user or device is located on the campus. It unlocks a world of possibilities for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
A cool feature of 5G technology is network slicing, which lets the network be sliced into separate segments that can provide private mobile access for a dedicated purpose, such as mission-critical systems, security and emergency communication.
Combined with multi-access edge computing (MEC), 5G lets users enjoy fast and uninterrupted connectivity that’s critical for live video streaming. MEC brings content in and out of the network as close to the production or delivery target as possible.
5G use cases
5G can be enabled in an array of use cases across the campus. Let’s start with the point of entry into the campus. When a person wants to access the campus, automated facial recognition technology can confirm their identity and allow or deny entry. Images and videos of people on campus are collected in real-time with 360-degree cameras and sent to cloud-based facial recognition technology to check against the authorised database. This alerts security instantly to any potential intrusion, creating a safer and more secure environment.
Data from systems such as building management systems, fire alarm systems, energy management systems, and visitor management systems, can be integrated in real-time for visualisation, analysis and more informed decision-making.
Multi-channel, high-definition cameras can transmit audio, video and course materials within and beyond the campus through the 5G network.
NUS trialling 5G
One tertiary institution that has taken the first step in using 5G is the National University of Singapore (NUS), which is working towards becoming a smart, safe and sustainable campus.
In February, NUS signed a collaboration with StarHub to incorporate 5G and IoT solutions into its smart campus innovations. Over a two-year period, the university will become an immersive classroom and trial a variety of 5G and IoT use cases in smart facilities management including building facade inspection, housekeeping and landscape management, waste management, security management, and AR/VR applications.
As housekeeping is labour-intensive and places a toll on limited resources, various sensors have been deployed to trigger alerts when attention is needed. Facility managers are notified when smart sanitary sensors detect that taps or flushing systems are faulty. Other sensors that track ammonia levels and toilet usage to alert if the toilets need cleaning.
Using these 5G-enabled sensors for monitoring such operations reduces the need for regular maintenance, cuts wastage, and speeds up response and repair time.
Future use cases include deploying drones and patrol robots for security management. Mobile cameras in these devices can transmit live feed to the security command centre for quicker detection of and response to any suspicious objects and activities on the campus.
NUS has also installed the first outdoor WiFi with 5G to cover open spaces in the campus. This provides fast and reliable connectivity in areas that previously had no WiFi access.
Using a mobile solar panel, the solution not only taps on clean energy for power but also overcame the challenges of excavating and laying power cables, saving deployment cost by 50%.
The solution is efficient from both a resource and cost perspective, as well as supports the university’s goal of becoming a smart, safe and sustainable campus.
It’s amazing what NUS is doing with 5G. In a digital-first world, the education sector is not spared from competition. Tertiary institutions need to continue to sharpen their competitive edge to attract the best lecturers, students and staff.
Having a smart campus based on 5G can give them the edge. It will provide valuable data to make the campus run more efficiently. Insights gleaned from the data will also help in agile decision-making to create a more responsive and environmentally sustainable campus.
Students will thrive in a well-connected environment as the entire campus becomes a mega teaching lab that provides a safe and enriching learning experience. The smart technological solutions also add value to student learning such as being exposed to and learning skills and knowledge required not just for graduation but also possibly give them a better head start to their careers. The campus workforce will also be more productive as 5G-enabled technologies do the heavy lifting.
Overall, the smart campus is about being relevant to the current times and giving tertiary institutions a greater chance of success in a highly competitive space.
Related article: What will the future look like for building and campus networks?
By Nikhil Eapen, Chief Executive Officer, StarHub