Ericsson partnership to ‘connect the unconnected’ during COVID-19

Ericsson will help connect more children to their teachers while they wait out the threat of COVID-19

Last Thursday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced the closure of all schools in the state for in-person instruction for the rest of the 2019-2020 school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, burdening school districts with the immense task of establishing a distance learning plan by April 13. That plan will, without a doubt, necessitate certain tools, such as technology and reliable internet, two items that might be a challenge for some families to access. In response, Ericsson has collaborated with Rutland City Public Schools and the Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) to provide Rutland students in need with free high-speed wireless internet and Google Chromebooks.

In fewer than ten days, VTel, its sister company VTel Wireless and Ericsson managed to deploy and install next-generation 4G/5G wireless radios and antennas on a downtown Rutland building, and deliver wireless modems and routers to homes, allowing students to immediately access free internet service.

Patricia Aigner, director of technology, Rutland City Public Schools, explained that the students in her district were of primary concern as COVID-19 threatened to shutter schools because many of them live in poverty, with nearly 70% of them receiving free or reduced lunch.

“The biggest hurdle to successful online instruction is the lack of connectivity faced by families across the city,” she continued.

But she said that the partnership between Vermont Telephone and Ericsson will help provide internet to many of the area’s families, connecting more children to their teachers.

“This partnership is providing expanded access to our families to ensure students’ continued education and overall welfare,” Aigner added.

Dr. Michel Guité, founder of Vermont Telephone Company, said the company is using its 5G spectrum “to ensure students of Rutland […] receive some of the fastest unlimited wireless Internet in America.”

“As an essential business,” he provided, “our 15 trucks are visiting rural Vermont homes on a daily basis to solve problems. We’re delivering free wired and wireless Internet to kids without Internet wherever we can.”

Chief Technology Officer for VTel and VTel Wireless, Arianna Robinson, acknowledged that delivering fast wireless internet to families in need will be a challenge and that “glitches” are bound to happen. However, she also reported that wireless speeds to many Rutland homes well above 100 Mbps, in some cases over 300 Mbps, have been recorded.

“And with new 5G devices later this year we should be seeing speeds even higher,” she added.

There is no point in fast internet without a device to access it, and so students in Rutland will also receive Google Chromebooks as part of the effort. Once a student turns on his or her new Chromebook, it will automatically connect to the internet.

Ericsson’s participation in such a venture should not come as a big surprise. The company has long been a strong voice in the discussion around providing connectivity to rural communities, offering the term ‘clever countryside’ as a counterpart to the popular ‘smart city.’ As exciting, and sometimes flashy, use cases for 5G and other emerging technologies continue to be revealed for bustling, urban locations, Ericsson has been making sure to remind everyone of the role technology can, and will, play in the rural space, as well.

Rob Johnson, head of customer unit regional carriers for Ericsson North America, stated, “Moving to remote learning requires students have access to the Internet, and we know the work Ericsson is doing is critical to many rural communities like Rutland. We’re proud to partner with the operator community to bring connectivity to rural America and connect the unconnected.”

 

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