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?


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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?


  • The use of 4G is a good as it is problematic. The obvious benefits are listed above, including improved access and mobility. Universities (and schools) can use this technology to separate from traditional learning environments to more remote locations (although this can be restricted to coverage). Other opportunities include enabling of personal control over expenses and usage, access to content sometimes too tightly or accidentally controlled. The ongoing expense of managing wireless networks may also become prohibitive into the future, where it would be more effective to provide access points directly to a provider. However, some people are simply unable to afford ongoing access, which has the potential to create problems for those students, particularly in the context of equity. - jmascorella jmascorella Feb 22, 2016
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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