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Geoverse Deploys 5G/LTE in Lieu of Wi-Fi for Virtual Learning

The private cellular network company has partnered with cities such as Tucson, Ariz., to establish and manage new 5G/LTE networks to close the digital divide and give schools control over their users.

A 5G tower.
While several cities in the U.S. have looked to Wi-Fi expansion projects to provide K-12 students with Internet access for virtual learning in recent months, some local governments and school districts have instead turned to 5G/LTE cellular networks as cost-effective alternatives for closing the digital divide.

One of their partners in this is Geoverse, a private cellular network company that recently announced its work with more than a dozen municipal governments and school systems during the pandemic to establish and manage 5G/LTE cellular networks needed for remote schooling. Geoverse Vice President of Partners and Business Development James Jacobellis said schools can control how these networks are used, which helps to make them more secure than other Internet alternatives.

“It’s completely private, controlled by the city and controlled by the school, yet it has public elements should you need those public elements, meaning that if you are outside of your private network coverage footprint, you’re able to move onto the public side, a.k.a. ‘roaming,’ through one of the public carriers,” he said.

In March, the company announced a partnership with Tucson, Ariz., to establish and manage its Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), launched as part of the city’s CARES Act-funded Community Wireless Program to provide Internet service to eligible residents, including about 100,000 students across five districts. The network is one of the largest municipal cellular network deployments in the nation and is also being used to connect some of the city’s infrastructure, according to Jacobellis.

Jacobellis said the city deployed a Geoverse GeoCore Evolved Packet Core platform to control network infrastructure from another vendor, JMA Wireless, and Google’s Spectrum Access System. Endpoints were outfitted with Geoverse SIM cards, allowing devices to connect to a secure private network and remain connected while roaming.

According to U.S. Census data, nearly 17 percent of Tuscon’s households lacked reliable Internet connectivity before the pandemic. The city’s CIO Collin Boyce said in a news release that the city initially considered pursuing a Wi-Fi program to address the city’s digital divide, but looked to LTE and CBRS for their cost-effectiveness, signal reach and network security capabilities.

“The resulting CBRS infrastructure footprint and related deployment resources required were significantly much more manageable and therefore more cost-effective, which was significant in understanding the tight schedule and limited resources we were managing against,” Boyce said in a statement.

According to Jacobellis, the company recently embarked on a similar program in Navajo Nation, where officials have struggled to provide and maintain connectivity for rural Indigenous students. Navajo Nation did not return requests for comment on the partnership.

Geoverse’s work with municipalities and schools came amid other similar public-private partnerships between local governments and cell network providers like T-Mobile geared toward expanding Internet access for telework and remote learning.

Jacobellis said Geoverse’s work differs due to the control schools can have over their networks, which can be compartmentalized into separate networks for different functions.

“When a national carrier goes in and tries to create a public-private relationship, they’re creating it on behalf of the carrier, meaning that they’re typically setting up a special plan that will ultimately get you back to the carrier’s network,” he said.

“We’re setting up a private network that’s integrated to the service layer of that city or that school district, so they control the data,” he added. “They’re also taking advantage of their existing network infrastructure like fiber and city-owned properties.”

These private networks provide schools with broadband connectivity without the data overages or network throttling often associated with public wireless service providers, according to Jacobellis. He said Geoverse helps maintain and operate the networks, which can interconnect with major mobile operators, to help schools with limited IT staff avoid additional personnel costs.

“Because we have all this experience being a cellular operator, we’re now applying these to private networks,” he said. “We’re allowing them to become their own branded virtual network operator for their community, but we’re the enabler and manager.

“We’re taking this on and operating the network, and we’re basically an extension of their IT and operations,” he later added. “We’re doing all the back-end [management], while they’re the front name for it. A real win-win setup.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.