Blog series: the unwired campus of the future
Educational institutions are facing the huge challenge of making education more flexible, more personal, more broadly applicable and more relevant. ICT on campus can be a solution and an enabler for some parts of this, but to do so, the present services on campus need to be radically revised. In addition, campuses will also need to work more closely with each other, in order to offer the flexible and collaborative users the same familiar facilities that they are used to anywhere and any time. The question is then: what will these ICT services look like for the Netherlands-wide campus of the future? How can we best implement the whole chain of services right through to the user? What shared facilities are needed to provide the basis? In this blog series, we will be looking at the unwired infrastructure as being one of these important facilities. A well set-up unwired infrastructure on and around the campus is an essential prerequisite for the delivery of education and research in the future. In the blogs, we are therefore going to be looking in depth at the most important components of the unwired campus of the future.
From campus to knowledge city
The campuses of universities, university medical centers, applied science universities, vocational education and research institutions are evolving more and more into knowledge centres, involving much more than just the primary processes of education and research. Start-ups, shared laboratories, bookshops but also the hospitality services on site add direct or indirect value to the primary process. This primary process itself is also evolving: more and more emphasis is being placed on things like personalised learning and multidisciplinary research, where business is also becoming involved. Education and research increasingly take place off-campus: on the move, in the cities or in businesses. The campus is becoming a city of knowledge!
Flexibility becomes a basic need
This change requires a more flexible way of learning and working. Lecturers who are used to lecture to hundreds of students will become coaches of smaller groups. Facility services are increasingly being asked for specific forms of customised support. Researchers share and finance laboratories on campus with start-ups, national and international colleagues, students and businesses. Students want the freedom to pursue their education without being tied down in space or in time, and they also want to benefit from the social aspect of group teaching. Where, for example, caterers need to adapt their services.
Demand for ICT services is rising
Users are generally accustomed, from their private life, to having a smartphone and all the useful data that it provides access to via the Internet. On campus, too, they expect ICT services to provide support for their specific situations: which options are available for receiving education? Where can I find more information? Who can I collaborate with, how and when? How can I best store my research data and share it openly, without breaking any privacy laws?
Digitalisation of education and research in its infancy
The application of “new” ICT technology and the use of it on campus still feels very raw and experimental. The digitalisation of education and research in the Netherlands is still in its infancy. For example, educational content is far from being personalised, some lecturers don’t know how to handle all the laptops and smartphones in the lecture halls, and research data are still far too often stored on a local PC or NAS under the desk, and therefore barely protected or shared (via open data).
The use of mobile equipment, such as tablets, smartphones, IoT sensors and their associated SaaS and data services from the (private) cloud is still very limited, but people are now aware of it. Local experiments and pilots are being deployed with location-based services or sensor networks, but these have not yet been combined. Therefore, there is the risk that the same things are being thought about in many different places, in ways that are not compatible with each other, which will not only make bundling demand and gaining economies of scale highly problematic, but also organising a shared infrastructure and sharing information. That is why it is now the time to collectively pick up the coordination role, and develop a shared vision of the ICT architecture of the smart campus which we can then all support, and pull in the same direction.
Access to the infrastructure of the future with unwired technology
So what does this kind of architecture look like? A number of elements are obvious: data transmission, authentication, storage, computing power and SaaS. One part of this architecture not to be underestimated is the unwired access, given that (almost) every user and every device in future will be connected wirelessly. The way in which the unwired access is set up will eventually determine which equipment, applications and data you can work with, and with what level of quality. This layer also determines to a significant extent the robustness and flexibility of the final architecture.
Which exact technologies are we talking about for unwired? Not just about Wi-Fi (wireless) and LTE/4G/5G (mobile) and the gradual merging of these network technologies. There are also sensor networks (IoT), the creation of a (licence free) radio spectrum on the campus on the one hand, and applications such as telephone services, location-based services and Skype/MS Teams or Slack on the other hand. And let’s not forget the data that flow out of these systems and that can be used for the smart campus.
In the next few blogs, we will be looking at the questions revolving around the use of unwired on campus, such as: what will you need radio coverage for on campus in the future? What is going on in the battle between wireless (Wi-Fi) and mobile (3G/4G/5G)? How do you connect the Internet of Things? And how do you manage access and seamless roaming between all this diversity in the unwired infrastructure?
And no, these blogs will not be serving you up a ready-made answer to the above questions. But they will hopefully lead to discussion, comments, new insights and penetrating questions. Which is what makes me curious! Do you have your own ideas about the unwired campus of the future, or would you like to react to this blog? Then please use the form below to share your reaction, or contact me directly at email@example.com!