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The Adoption of LTE Devices for the Future of Distance Learning

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Interest in Long-Term Evolution (LTE) continues to grow, as the issue of internet access equity has been further highlighted by the move to distance learning. In the near-term, school districts utilising Chromebooks or Windows Notebooks have looked to bridge the connectivity gap by deploying mobile dongles, or by utilising mobile hot spots (MiFi). However, in districts or countries that have used a tablet solution as their COVID-19 response, LTE based devices have often been used. This has been made evident by the 1 million-unit iPad deal that LA USD struck with Apple, which uses a T-Mobile data package with an LTE capable iPad. Apple has struck similar deals in New York (300,000 LTE iPads) and in Canada in tandem with the telco Rogers, where 25,000+ LTE iPads were distributed. Looking ahead further projects are in the pipeline, notably the one-million-unit android tablet project in Peru and the 600,000 android tablets project in El Salvador, which will both see the deployment of LTE enabled devices.

The Benefits and Challenges of LTE Adoption

Elsewhere, the adoption of LTE based devices is becoming an increasing part of the conversation. For example, it is a desired feature for GIGA deployments in Japan where fixed broadband access is intermittent, as well as South Africa where a multi-year project to move its students to a 1:1 student-to-device ratio is being considered, although funding issues have stalled this for now.

Where Chromebook and Windows notebooks are still being deployed, the use of LTE, while desirable in some markets, is still some way from becoming a reality. While COVID-19 has pushed increased funding availability to support student device access for distance learning, we are also seeing desirable device feature sets being sacrificed in favour of more basic functionality. This is to ensure budgets are spread further and more students can gain access to a device. Therefore LTE devices fall in to the ‘desirable’ bracket at this moment in time, as this functionality adds between $80 to $100 to the cost of a device and this is harder to justify for ed tech buyers, when a dongle or MiFi device can achieve the same functionality at a fraction of the cost.

An additional factor is the associated data cost. In Japan, telco’s Rakuten and NTT Domo have been progressive in setting up data plans, while in North America T-Mobile and Rogers have worked closely with Apple. However, in other countries, e.g. South Africa, data costs remain high and prohibitive to LTE adoption without some form of government intervention in terms of subsidies.

LTE Based Windows Devices to Encourage Uptake?

The development of LTE based Windows devices continues, notably Microsoft’s Qualcomm based LTE Windows 10 notebook, which is currently in production and expected to commercially launch in October. Depending on price point and device performance, this could be the beginning of widespread uptake of LTE capable devices. However, in the short-term product availability is limited to second tier OEM’s JP and Positivo.

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