Next-generation education networks: How much bandwidth is enough?

by Dennis Pierce

As school districts shift to technology-rich learning environments, they’re seeing their bandwidth usage skyrocket. How can K-12 technology leaders plan and design their next-generation education networks to adequately meet this rising demand?

According to the Consortium for School Networking’s 2016 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey, 27 percent of school IT leaders project a significant growth in their bandwidth needs over the next 18 months — “a whopping 100 percent to 499 percent increase,” the report says. Another 4 percent project an extremely high growth in their bandwidth needs of 500 percent or more.

What’s driving this ever-increasing need for bandwidth?

School IT leaders “expect dramatic increases in the number of students with multiple devices,” CoSN reports.

Approximately 21 percent of ed-tech leaders say their students are using two or more devices today. In three years, 65 percent of school districts (more than triple today) expect their students will use two or more devices at school.

“It is clear that school systems need to plan for robust, ubiquitous learning environments, often with students accessing multiple devices,” the CoSN report notes.

In light of these growing demands on education networks, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has come out with new guidance to help K-12 leaders understand their network capacity needs.

“The Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning” builds on the advice that SETDA gave in its original “Broadband Imperative” report a few years ago.

The updated report makes new recommendations for how much broadband school districts should aim for, depending on their size — ranging from 0.7 to 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth per user in the 2017-18 school year and increasing up to 4.3 Mbps per user by the 2020-21 school year.

The report also gives some creative examples for how some states and school districts are meeting their network capacity challenges.

As K-12 leaders consider how to design next-generation education networks that can meet their needs, AT&T has issued a new resource that can help as well. “Shaping a Next-Generation Network” is a free white paper that looks at factors to consider when evaluating a long-term fiber lease.