Report Reveals Surprising Data About Mobile Broadband Usage in Schools
A recent Mobile Beacon report analyzing mobile broadband usage by non-profit organizations, including schools, finds that schools utilizing Mobile Beacon’s 4G LTE internet service indicate that the ability to supplement and/or extend existing school networks is the greatest benefit of the service.
The report, Creating Opportunity Through Connectivity: How Mobile Broadband for Anchor Institutions Impacts Communities, analyzed survey responses from Mobile Beacon’s non-profit clients. Mobile Beacon enables non-profit organizations - including schools - to purchase LTE-enabled mobile hotspot devices for $70 and offers uncapped, unthrottled data plans for $10/month.
While schools reported that the two main drivers for acquiring Mobile Beacon’s mobile broadband services are the desire for mobile connectivity (41%) and to save money on internet access (28%), they reported that the main benefits of using the services were 1) the ability to supplement/extend an existing network in their building (42%) and 2) having unlimited data access (22%). The report analyzed data consumption by schools over a 5-month period (Sept 2016-Jan 2017) and found the average monthly data usage is 373 GB. During this time frame, data usage trended strongly upward, with consumption increasing so rapidly that the report predicts average school use could double in the course of a year. The sharp increase in data usage provides insight into school data usage trends when bandwidth is not capped or limited.
Because mobile broadband speeds are far below those of many wired connections, the prevalence of schools using Mobile Beacon’s service for on-campus connectivity underscores their need for additional broadband capacity. The authors suggest that schools with high-speed cable or fiber connections probably use Mobile Beacon’s service during peak periods when their network is sluggish due to congestion. For schools that do not have high-speed broadband, mobile broadband provides higher speeds than older technologies. For example, according to the report, the Mobile Beacon service is up to 5-7 times faster than a T1 line.
In addition to supplementing network capacity, schools also use mobile connectivity to loan mobile hotspots to students without home internet access. Thirteen percent of the schools surveyed primarily use the service for this purpose. A second report, “Bridging the Gap: What Affordable, Uncapped Internet Means for Digital Inclusion,” surveyed households participating in the Bridging the Gap program, a joint initiative between Mobile Beacon and PCs for People that provides both refurbished computers and low cost, uncapped, and unthrottled mobile broadband service to low-income families. Key education-related findings include:
94% of parents said having Mobile Beacon’s internet service has helped them better support their children academically
54% of parents reported their children spend more than 4 hours a week doing homework online
95% of respondents with school-age students reported they can now communicate with their child’s teachers more often
Although wired high-speed internet connectivity remains the gold standard for both school and home use, service availability and cost are two significant challenges facing schools and their communities. The growing use of mobile broadband solutions highlights the importance of providing students with equitable internet access both in and outside of school.
Susan Bearden is the Digital Equity Project Director for the Consortium for School Networking. She served as a Senior Fellow in the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education from 2016-2017, where she specialized in education broadband policy, and previously served as the Director of Information Technology for an independent school in Florida.