Online school has been a huge challenge for Sacramento Unified School District, where more than 70% of the students qualify for free or subsidized lunch programs and roughly a quarter have no broadband connection. At Leataata Floyd Elementary School dropout rates rose during 2020 as students fell hopelessly behind without internet access.
As concerns about the digital divide increase nationwide, Intel, JMA Wireless, CommScope, AWS and Megh Computing have joined forces to create a model for private CBRS networks, which they hope to scale statewide. They are starting at Leataata Floyd.
Paid for with a combination of public and private funds, the CBRS network will cover a three quarter mile area that includes three residential areas as well as the school. The project will start with a summer trial, during which just 25 students and their teachers will connect on the network using Google Chromebooks provided by Intel. Each Chromebook will be equipped with a MultiTech dongle that provides connectivity to the CBRS network. Eventually, the partners want to scale the network to serve many more students and also enable telehealth for the residents in this community.
Megh Computing will provide a video analytics application connected to a CBRS-based indoor cellular network at the Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency. The application runs on AWS Cloud EC2 and Snowball Edge, the AWS infrastructure designed to support mobile private networks in remote locations. This video analytics solution is set to expand after the trial, so that the school can have video surveillance cameras as well.
JMA Wireless and CommScope are the two radio vendors for the CBRS network. CommScope is one of the companies certified by the FCC to offer a Spectrum Access System, which manages the sharing of CBRS spectrum. The U.S. Navy has priority, followed by priority access license (PAL) holders and then all other users. The Sacramento network uses unlicensed spectrum (General Authorized Access), so CommScope's Spectrum Access System will ensure that the spectrum is cleared whenever a higher priority user needs it.
The companies are not naming the core network vendor, but said the core network software runs on the Snowball Edge platform. The vendors also said that CBRS-enabled phones could eventually connect to the network, although that is not part of the trial.
Although this network is starting with a small trial, it has big ambitions. Once the template is proven, the companies plan to replicate it for a majority of California's underserved school districts as well as select higher-education campuses in the California state university system.
“This private network solution on Intel technology provides students and teachers with the high-speed connectivity needed for equitable education and remote learning, and compute at the edge for video analytics applications," said Intel's Caroline Chan, VP and GM, 5G Infrastructure Division. "I’m proud to say our contribution is closing the digital divide in this area."
“Reliable high-speed internet is the equalizer in today’s education," said Prasad Rampalli, expert advisor at the California Emerging Technology Fund. "As we move forward from the pandemic, we must continue to utilize high levels of educational technology in teaching and learning."