When Abraham Lincoln was still a young man, he used to walk 12 miles from his home to borrow school books from a friend. As Doris Kearns Goodwin shows us in her book, Leadership,he would set out to memorise each one, as information was so hard to come by in rural Kentucky.

Connectivity has now transformed education. Those 12 mile hikes can be 12 second searches – and even that would feel like four score and seven years for those of us who use our smartphones constantly.

That’s why the most important new ‘edutech’ development this year is none other than WiFi – specifically WiFi6. This will bring a fundamental change that enables us to keep up with the increasing volume of information and opportunity available at our fingertips.

Key challenges

Education has changed greatly from Lincoln’s day, where rote learning and rigorous exams were the norm. Now graduates must be prepared for a volatile, uncertain world where entire industries can disappear in under a decade.

Training is becoming more personalised, with curriculums adapted to move at the pace of individual students. Why should every student need exactly the same amount of attention in maths, English and science classes? Common sense alone tells us that their skills will differ.

For example, Singapore Polytechnic is using data to personalise students’ experience on campus. When students log on to the wireless network, the school is able to identify and understand their needs to “personalise and push down different services on demand to them,” says Chief Digital and Data Officer Loh Gin Chye. This data is helping the school identify students at risk of falling behind, allowing teachers to devise customised lesson plans and prompt students to read additional material if needed.

“WiFi6 is crucial to all of this because it will bring about a fundamental change to connectivity. This upgrade is not just about speed, but about improving the way the internet works when a huge number of devices are connected to it,” says Dr. Osama Aboul-Magd, one of the pioneers of this technology, and the Chairman of the IEEE 802.11ax standard task group. He has spent decades developing patents and research on this technology.

What does WiFi6 mean? It’s a new standard of superfast broadband that uses artificial intelligence to predict user behaviour and automatically allocate bandwidth across the network. The technology allows devices to connect to the internet more efficiently than older WiFi standards, increasing the overall speed of connectivity.

Personalised and uninterrupted

One of the biggest areas impacted will be the ability to understand students and staff user experience. Rich real time data from WiFi use allows universities to visualise student experiences – including when and how they prefer to study and work, and what kind of bottlenecks come up.

For example, NTU wants to use machine learning to identify those who may be falling behind, allowing professors to “intervene in a timely manner”, its CIO Alvin Ong says. The goal is “to have an integrated view of a student” from the point of admission till after graduation, he adds. Eventually, he wants to “have insights from all the data, and have all the prompts and alerts in real time, which will help us make better decisions.”

Using big data analytics and AI, officials can predict problems before they occur, such as usage surges at exam times. It is possible to identify issues correctly 85 percent of the time with advanced technologies like WiFi6, and this will improve as the tech is rolled out globally.

Huawei has worked with Tsinghua University, Asia’s best ranked institution, to provide a more stable, reliable and secure network for nearly 50,000 students who live at the 100-year-old campus. During peak hours, the university sees over 100,000 devices connected simultaneously. With WiFi6, the university ensure can all study at high speed and focus on their futures.

The students can learn how and when they want – whether that’s over video or voice, or on theirsmartphones as well as in lecture halls. WiFi6 is foundational to delivering this more agile and adaptive way of working.

Swiss university ETH has also experienced this first hand. It now caters to a growing number of students across its global campuses, who increasingly use smartphones to access learning material. The university worked with Huawei to overhaul its network, and built one of the largest next-generation campus networks in the world. This new infrastructure is now allowing the university to implement its ‘learning anytime and anywhere’ strategy.

In 1913, Thomas Edison predicted that books would become obsolete in schools. While they may not disappear altogether, all the signs point to a much more personalised and agile way of learning. Universities have realised that technology is completely changing their industry. WiFi6 will be a crucial pillar of this edutech revolution.

Read more about the future of WiFi here.