DA op-ed: What K-12 leaders should know about 5G technology

This next generation of service is designed to keep up with the proliferation of devices needing a mobile internet connection
By: | Issue: July/August, 2019
July 16, 2019
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Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.

Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.

Over the past few months I have been asked numerous times about 5G and its potential impact on K-12 education, so I thought I would share my thoughts with all of you.

5G is the next generation of wireless service. This next generation of service is specifically designed to keep up with the staggering proliferation of devices needing a mobile internet connection. 5G will offer faster download speeds and reduced power (device battery) requirements. Of course, this additional speed and functionality comes with an increased cost.

For those of you who don’t know the “G” stands for “generation,” which means 5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology. Gartner has predicted that by 2020 there will be over 20.8 billion devices connected to the internet.

That isn’t hard to imagine, when you think about all the devices we currently connect to the internet; phones, watches, fitness trackers, tablets, cameras, cars and in the near future self-driving cars. 5G will enable smaller, inexpensive devices and sensors to easily connect which means the Internet of Things (IoT) will see a massive uptick in service offerings currently unavailable.

5G is available in some major cities on a limited basis with widespread availability expected in 2020. However, I think we need to look at what widespread means. Rural areas won’t see 5G as quickly as urban areas. With that being said, even the urban areas 5G availability will be based on the carrier’s geographic implementation schedule of towers and antennas.

Impact on IoT

So, what potential impact does this fifth generation of mobile technology have on K-12? I think you must look at the applicability of IoT to education. Student RFID cards, wearable fitness trackers, security cameras and access control are areas seeing an increase use where 5G could have a role. Additionally, I think IoT could have a positive impact on the maintenance and operations side of the house. Leveraging IoT for system control, system monitoring, maintenance and repair could reduce downtime, manpower and provide energy efficiencies. These impacts have a direct positive effect towards district budgets which is never a bad thing.

I believe 5G is an opportunity for the CIO and Superintendent to collaborate and influence beyond the school district walls.

5G could also provide connectivity to remote areas on a campus that currently doesn’t have fiber. I’m thinking about football, soccer and baseball fields. This connectivity could be extended beyond facilities to bleacher areas as well. Transportation is another area where I see 5G having a role. Leveraging the student RFID functionality mentioned above on buses, provides the district and parents an opportunity to track individual students.

Connectivity on buses for students is something that would help bridge the “Homework” gap every school system struggles with. From a classroom perspective Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two areas that always require faster and better connectivity which could open the door for 5G depending on the speed and reliability of internal WiFi networks.

Beyond IT

Having said all that, I believe 5G is a great example of “The Changing Role of the CIO.” This innovation isn’t a technology project. All the opportunities mentioned above go far beyond the walls of the IT department. This 5G technology and any implementation associated should be a cross-functional decision with technology on one side and the business/education partner on the other. Defining “WHY” you are considering this is the most important conversation to have.

There are increased costs, timing, training, process and procedure considerations that go far beyond the technical availability. As the CIO you have a responsibility to bring innovation to the table, to be the ideator and communicate what is possible. You also must recognize shared ownership. 5G is something that will only add value if the end users of this technology leverage and in some cases change how they are currently operating.


Read: DA op-ed: Transformational leadership: What is it?


I believe 5G is an opportunity for the CIO and Superintendent to collaborate and influence beyond the school district walls. City government will have some influence with carriers as to when and where 5G will be available. If you and your Superintendent can help influence city officials on the when and where you have the ability to make this service available to the neediest areas of your district. Additionally, conversations directly with the carries could prove to be beneficial from an implementation perspective and possibly a dollar perspective.

The bottom line: 5G is something every CIO should keep their eye on. Most importantly it is an upcoming innovation that provides you an opportunity to have conversations with your district peers about the “Possibilities”.

I’d like to remind our readers about the exciting new professional development series for CIO’s. Our 2019 CIO Summit series will focus on “The Changing Role of the CIO.”

We have engaged a powerhouse lineup of speakers who will provide practical leadership and strategic practices you can take back to your district.

Beyond our speakers, our Summits will provide hands-on learning activities that will allow you to dig deeper in to the content presented. Lastly, you will spend two-and-a-half days working closely with your peers, establishing new and hopefully long-lasting professional relationships.

For more information I invite you to visit our website at: daleadershipinstitute.com/ciosummits.


Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.


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