Deployment of 5G mobile networks are still in the early stages, as carriers have a long road ahead in deployments of the next-generation mobile network technology. However, Verizon is prioritizing access for education, announcing an initiative at the Global Citizen Festival in New York on Saturday to provide 5G network access to 100 Title 1 schools across the US, as an extension of Verizon’s Innovative Learning initiative, which provides access to technology to students and teachers in under-resourced schools.

The first two of these deployments are in Cleveland, activated a few weeks ago. Verizon’s education initiative, which is already deployed in 152 schools across the US, includes 1:1 access to Chromebooks or iPads for students and teachers, including 4G LTE connectivity to provide internet access at home.

SEE: Special report: How 5G will transform business (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“We wanted to go beyond that, and make sure our students also have access to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality, technologies that can really leverage and harness the power of 5G,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, Verizon director of corporate social responsibility.

“When we decided to deploy 5G to our schools, we knew that we could not just bring the technology without having the right content and curriculum for our students,” she continued. “Last fall, we launched the 5G EdTech Challenge, which was a national call to non-profits and universities to submit solutions that could leverage 5G, that could make a difference in academic achievement and engagement for our students.”

The winners of the challenge include Movers and Shakers, an augmented reality game that explores the narratives of underrepresented historical figures. “Students get to interact with historical figures that actually come to life in front of them through augmented reality… students get to learn about historical figures together, and that’s what really engages students and gets them excited about what they are learning in school,” Nixon-Saintil said, comparing the experience to Star Trek. “It’s an immersive learning experience that people have been talking about for some time, we’re able to do that because of the bandwidth and low latency of 5G.”

Other winning projects include “Mapper’s Delight,” a multi-user VR environment that guides students through the process of conducting data science experiments through hip hop, and “Visceral Science: Grasping the Universe through Virtual Reality,” a VR project developed at Columbia University to make abstract chemical and space science concepts such as atoms and particles, planets and stars, and black holes and galaxies more tangible.

Verizon’s 5G deployment is in “Innovation Labs” that include AR/VR headsets, Internet of Things (IoT) manipulatives, and 3D printers. Verizon’s 5G deployment in schools is centered around these rooms, with a 5G to Wi-Fi mobile hotspot providing internet connectivity. “The initial deployment will only target one lab or classroom, as 5G becomes ubiquitous… we’ll look expand the 5G network throughout the school,” said Roberto de Jesus, 5G program manager at Verizon.

How equitable access to educational technology influences life-long opportunity

A Brookings Institution report published earlier this year highlighted the educational disparity that students in under-resourced schools face, noting the existence of the “homework gap” of students without access to broadband at home.

“Use of the internet for homework is lowest among Hispanic (2.4%) and African-American (2.5%) respondents,” the report stated, finding that “5G represents increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services for communities of color—and, frankly, any other vulnerable group—that lacks access to a reliable broadband connection.”

Outside of classrooms, where is Verizon’s 5G service available?

Verizon activated 5G mobile network access in New York, Boise, and Panama City on September 26, bringing the number of cities where Verizon provides 5G access to subscribers to 13, ahead of Sprint and T-Mobile. Consumer 5G access in Cleveland, where the first 5G Innovation Labs were opened in schools, is planned before the end of the year. AT&T has 5G deployments in 21 cities, though has yet to provide access to consumers. Verizon previously indicated plans to spend between $17 billion to $18 billion in 2019, including the commercial launch of 5G.

For more, check out “Girls Who Code is ready for world domination” at CNET, “Tech with a twist: Innovative youth program combines coding and dance” at CBS News, and “New research centre receives AU$62m to study children’s digital lives” at ZDNet.

Image: Verizon