Private LTE for Schools using CBRS: A real implementation

School communities are being forced to maintain social distancing and limit or delay re-opening due to Covid. Private LTE using CBRS offers schools the opportunity to deliver connectivity to the students that need it most. Murray City School District has done just that.

Private LTE for Schools: giving students the connectivity they deserve

Murray City School District wanted to bridge the digital divide for students who lack internet access at home. However, it quickly discovered a problem.

Until now, there have only been two options for broadband wireless connectivity. One is Wi-Fi, which is designed for small premises and does not scale to cover a school district. The remaining option is public cellular networks designed for national scale operators. The school could have bought SIM cards from a public cellular operator. However that solution could not guarantee coverage, quality and control of student’s network usage. Moreover, the economics did not work. Instead, could the school operate their own cellular network? The big hurdle is that technology used in public cellular networks is too complex for a school-sized network.

Communities like Murray City school district operate in areas of hundreds of thousands of square feet to a few square miles. Firstly, they needed a solution that gives the wide area coverage and reliability of public cellular networks. Secondly, they need the simplicity and affordability of Wi-Fi.

Murray School’s approach to Private LTE

Jason Eyre, the school’s director of Information Technology, turned to a new wireless technology called Private LTE. This technology can be deployed on newly deregulated Spectrum by the FCC called CBRS.

Jason obtained LTE radios from Ruckus. However, he needed a “core network” to bring the network to life. The barrier to deploying private networks is the cost and complexity of core networks. This is because they have traditionally been designed for and by specialist engineers working for cellular operators.

At first, officials were skeptical about the school’s ability to manage a network. However, an expert suggested that Jason contact a core network vendor with a solution that is designed for private network deployments.

The Network gets an A+

Athonet partnered with Ruckus to deliver its Connectivity Platform, which was installed on small form factor hardware running in the school premises. A cloud portal (the Control Center on AWS) was provided to the school’s IT department to manage the network.

The solution has been up and running for months to deliver Internet service to qualifying students. The network is also used as a highly reliable alternative communications system within the school for security, video surveillance and immersive learning experiences.

“We first wanted to experiment and created a multi-vendor testbed. Unfortunately we weren’t getting the performance that we wanted. So, we turned to Athonet for the core and Ruckus for the RAN”, explained Eyre.  “When Athonet’s Edge Node arrived, we were able to self-install in minutes and connect it to the Ruckus radios. The Edge Node breaks out all the LTE traffic locally. Moreover, the platform gives us complete control over all our devices and traffic from an intuitive cloud-based portal. This has made a very complex technology extremely simple to use.”

Tablets like Apple’s iPad and iPad Pro support CBRS natively and give students immediate access to the network. In addition, Fixed Wireless Broadband Gateways such as the CommScope NVG558C and CBRS modems like Cradlepoint and Multitech have been used to provide connectivity to student tablets and laptops.

For more information on how Private LTE can help your community, click on this link.