Tablets-in-school galore causes a bandwidth war in Southern California

May 15, 2014
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Coachella Valley Unified School District, a few dozen miles east of Los Angeles, is a proud leader in tablet learning. Last school year, 5,000 iPads were distributed to students in a pilot program. This school year, their mobile learning initiative project went much further. Bond-funded iPads were distributed to every of its 18,000 students, from preschool to high-school.

While this has been great for many low income students who wouldn’t have afforded a tablet on their own, two other school districts in the county, in Palm Springs and Desert Sands, were not so happy. The quality of their internet access went down. So much that the county education office had to cap the Internet consumption of the East Valley schools last Friday.

Now, Coachella Valley’s students receive delayed emails and can hardly watch videos. The superintendent of Coachella Valley Unified told The Desert Sun that students can still use iPads… to takes notes and read preloaded books and documents.

Coachella Valley’s students are now just sharing the pain they inflicted, for many months, to students in other districts. In Palm Springs Unified, a connection slowdown was noticed soon after the beginning of the school year. It got worse after January. Internet access was very poor. Schools even went off the grid for hours.

Teachers at James Workman Middle School, a technology-heavy school in Cathedral City where students have been using Chromebooks, had to adapt. The Desert Sun says teachers formed the habit of preparing two versions of each lesson: One version using online resources, if they were lucky enough to have a decent internet connection, and another backup offline lesson.

Bandwidth figures tell why. Riverside county schools share a 1 gigabit per second Internet connection. During this school year, Coachella Valley Unified’s consumption grew from 30% to 85% of this available bandwidth, leaving other school districts with just 15% of the bandwidth.

Since last week’s bandwidth cap has been implemented, other school districts have regained some of their Internet access. But a major connection upgrade is due to support the tablet learning project.

What happened in the Riverside county is just one example of issues caused by the spread of tablets across organizations. One speaker at TabTimes’ latest Tablet Strategy conference emphasized that bandwidth requirements must be a key consideration of any table deployment – specially when tablets are distributed to always-on young people who are heavy video consumers.

If you know about other examples of bandwith issues caused by tablets, please share in the comments below.

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