What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of the infrastructure that delivers the Internet.
When fully deployed across Canada, 5G enables us to do all we can do now faster and more reliably, and also support breakthrough technologies in a variety of fields, including health and education. With 5G, video and music download in a fraction of the time it takes now and more devices can be connected simultaneously for more of the time with fewer service interruptions
5G is only available in a small number of test locations in Canada at this time – the full rollout is scheduled to begin in 2020, though this is dependent on key decisions to be taken by the federal government. We should be able to access 5G by late 2021 or early 2022.
5G is essential for the world of the driverless car or truck – it enables the vehicle to connect to other vehicles and to “read” maps, traffic controls and understand constraints in a millisecond – much faster than is possible now. 5G also makes the “Internet of things” (IoT) possible – connected devices in homes, offices, and on the road commanded by voice, gesture and thought.
China currently leads the world in 5G developments, led in part by the technology provider Huawei and the availability of appropriate spectra. The United States (US) and Canada are playing “catch-up”, according to a recent report. The challenge for the US and Canada is the spectra available, especially in the US, requires substantial physical infrastructure investment and costs investors a great deal of money. Consumers can expect to pay more when 5G rolls out due to these investments.
Implications for Online Learning – 10 Examples
Like its predecessors, 5G enables more widespread adoption of the tools already available to course creators, instructional designers and administrators. That is, 5G is not a breakthrough design technology, it is a breakthrough support technology.
Here are ten examples of what 5G can do for learners. Many of the items on this list are possible in some locations now. The benefit of 5G is the underlying technology is both more reliable and (at least) 100x faster than current technology.
- Greater Use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
Right now, simulations and immersive experiences are hampered by slower speeds, unreliability, restrictions on the number of people who can connect,as well as other technical issues. With 5G, multiple simulations and immersive experiences can be “handled” in real time.
Simulating a forest fire and responding to firefighting decisions can be done in a millisecond rather than a second. A student learning about Ancient Rome could today take a virtual walk through the Coliseum, adorned as it was nearly 2,000 years ago. With richer, faster and more reliable AR/VR, these technologies are likely to be embedded in a variety of courses within 5-10 years.
- Greater Use of Video
Text still dominates our thinking about what constitutes a course, student activity and assessment. With better and more reliable tools for capturing video, sharing video and the ability to interrogate and search video, text is gradually supplemented and then replaced by video. For example, apprentices can demonstrate competencies, skills and capabilities through video, a much more powerful assessment tool than paper-based tests.
- Greater Use of AI Applications
AI has been with us for over twenty-five years, but is now being rapidly deployed. We can expect greater automated guidance and student advising systems, AI-enabled tutoring, and AI-enabled assessment. 5G enables faster, broader deployment of these technologies. We can also expect increased use of these technologies for quality assurance, benchmarking and traceability.
- Big Data
Using data analytics to determine a course of action – which students can be fast tracked or need additional supports to succeed and which courses need revision because they are not delivering the outcomes expected – can all be done faster and on a larger scale. While some institutions are already making use of data analytics, deployment is faster, cheaper and more ubiquitous with 5G.
- Greater Collaboration Across Vast Boundaries
Leveraging IoT, students can collaborate with each other and teachers in real time regardless of distance. For example, using virtual reality headsets, students in remote locations can place themselves in a classroom with their peers or transport teachers and students anywhere in the world the curriculum takes them, from inside the human body to the far reaches of the solar system. Indeed, 5G enables new forms of collaboration and new ways of collaborating on course design, development and deployment.
- Mobile Learning for the New Workforce
As the workforce changes – more freelance workers, more inter-generational workplaces, more technology-enabled work – learning is a core requirement of almost every job. Learning on demand – Uber-U – is enabled by 5G. Desktop devices are already supplanted by tablets and mobile devices with these devices becoming the major learning tools for the future. Mobile learning applications leveraging location technologies see significant growth and development.
- Personalized Learning Systems
All current major learning management systems (LMS) enable adaptive learning: as the learner acts, the LMS makes decisions about what to present to the learner. With faster, more reliable infrastructure, we can expect the LMS to be used far more than is currently the case. The LMS also become much more sophisticated and make more use of more varied information from a greater variety of sources (e.g. all of the learner’s Internet-based activity) to enable this personalized learning. 5G is key to the deployment of in-network caching technologies such as Content Centric Networks (CCN) and Information Centric Networks (ICN), which can be used to improve efficiency by reducing the service response time and bandwidth consumption.
- Globalized Learning
MOOC providers now offer degrees and micro-credentials, which can count towards qualifications, many of these recognized in more than one jurisdiction through qualification frameworks. UNESCO is working on a global framework for credit transfer, which is enabled by the wider use of blockchain technologies and 5G. Global learning systems of credit recognition are much more accessible to more people because of 5G.
- Instant Assessment of Skills and Capabilities
The practice of assessment is already in the midst of a renaissance. 5G enables the widespread adoption of new assessment models – AI-generated assessments which are marked by AI systems, assessment on demand, video-based assessment based on competencies, and more robust methods of proctoring remote location assessment at scale (e.g. using facial recognition software).
- Better Capture of Learning and Easier Administration
As micro-credentials and other routes to learning become more ubiquitous, coupled with the wider use of credit recognition systems and competency-based learning, the traceability of student learning is more challenging. Blockchain technology, traceability, and security and compliance systems, and new and faster financial systems ease and simplify administration, both within and between institutions. It is also likely to reduce the costs of the current enterprise systems.
The Downside of 5G
All technologies come with inherent risk. 5G is no exception. A variety of organizations developed extensive catalogues of such risks – for example 5G?IoT. Here we identify five major concerns about the power and potential of 5G.
- Privacy and Security
Student and other related data are collected, mined, analyzed, and stored indefinitely in data centres. These data can be used for targeted marketing (aka surveillance capitalism), surveillance for compliance, law enforcement, research, smart systems, and lots more as the IoT evolves. In fact, a whole eco-system is being built with our collective data, as the data from one application becomes fodder for another. Data of course is also used by hackers for their purposes, as we already see in some colleges and universities.
- Health and Wellbeing
Ongoing research into the impact of technology on our psychological and physical wellbeing suggests there are health risks associated with enabling the more extensive use of technology, especially mental health risks. Researchers, such as Sherry Turkle, Jean Twenge, Phil MacRae and Yao Jun Shao, are raising concerns about the impact of Internet-based technologies on health and classify between 8-11% of students as “addicted” to technology, with this addiction having negative health effects. They see expanding access and use of technology as likely to increase both the number of addicts and the severity of effects. Mental health on campus is already a significant issue; it is now likely to extend to online learners.
- Ethical Issues
5G in itself creates issues about equality of access to technology, which are political, moral and ethical issues. But the bigger issues relate to the ways in which data and the algorithms are used to determine who secures what access to what services. Organizations like Algorithm Watch track and document the use of data as a tool of discrimination or oppression and many researchers, such as Aniika Richterich and Jeff Collmann, are exploring the ethical questions related to the deployment of AI and related technologies.
Each citizen of Canada generates some 20 kg of e-waste each year (based on 2016 data), placing Canada as the eighth most e-wasteful country in the world after Norway, United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Germany, France and Spain. The Global E-Waste Monitor expects both the volume of waste and the speed of e-waste to increase as 5G becomes more ubiquitous, with users wanting to add to and update technology more often to improve their connectivity and sense of belonging. While recycling efforts may be improving, there is still much to do. The circular economy for electronics may become an urgent need.
- Energy Use, Climate Change and Access
Wireless technologies, especially those which leverage cloud servers, make much more extensive use of energy than fiber-based systems. 3G technologies use about 15 times more energy than wired connections, and 4G technologies consume 23 times more energy. There is no data yet on 5G, but some analysts argue it is likely to require more energy than 4G while others suggest 5G could use less. What is likely to be the case is more people will use IoT devices and related technologies for longer, more often. This has an impact on emissions and climate change. Vendors argue improvements in energy efficiency and CO2 emissions management policy (e.g. carbon taxation) mitigate these increased emissions, but the evidence is scant. To “fuel” 5G likely requires added energy capacity on the global energy grid.
The challenge for course creators, instructional designers and those who teach students is patience – 5G is not here yet and we have to wait for deployment in all regions across Canada. Currently, there are limited tests occurring in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa as well as in some rural communities for home Internet access.
There are also implications for technology ownership. Current smartphones are not 5G-enabled. All major manufacturers are working on 5G smartphones, tablets and related devices and make release announcements at the appropriate time. Most Android manufacturers expect to release in 2019, but Apple is looking to release in 2020 or 2021. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, launched in April 2019, is available in the US in June 2019 but not in Canada until the networks upgrade to 5G in 2020 or 2021. Other devices, such as tablets, also start to carry faster and 5G-enabled hardware so they can fully leverage the 5G speeds and services.
As we wait, this is the exact time to start imagining and designing new learning experiences and new course structures based on what 5G can do so when the major telecom carriers launch, new learning experiences are available quickly. There is nothing to stop the development of the video and related resources needed for powerful simulations, games and immersive learning; nothing to stop video-based design for learning; and nothing to stop the development of AI-enabled anytime, anywhere on demand competency-based assessment.
Rather than react to the availability of 5G in 2020 or 2021, let’s be ready and anticipate. Demonstrate Canadian leadership and showcase the power of 5G for learning early.