Selection of Technology to Connect Schools

While a narrowband solution, such as dial-up service, will provide Internet connectivity, access is slow, the service is not “always-on” and costs can be higher than broadband.

Schools often cannot afford Internet access, particularly in rural and remote areas. Given the importance of the integration of ICT in education, governments have increasingly assumed the responsibility of providing solutions that reduce these costs or subsidize the existing cost.

Various technologies exist and may or may not be available throughout the country. The different technologies may have different costs. For example, satellite broadband technology has a different cost profile than does terrestrial mobile broadband. In rural areas, networks may generally be available, but additional costs may be incurred to bringconnectivity to the school. The availability of technologies, along with their speed and accessibility, must be balanced with costs, all of which bear upon the sustainability of the project. Appropriate speeds need to be identified along with the selection of high-speed technology. However, alternatives to high-speed connectivity cannot be ignored, because they still can be useful in integrating ICT in education, particularly where broadband connectivity is still a challenge.

Source: ela Report 2012, available at: http://www.elearning-africa.com/

There are several technologies for Internet access. Availability, appropriateness and cost are the key factors in deciding which method to use for Internet access. If telephone lines already exist in the school, it may be possible to use digital subscriber line (DSL) service, which can be offered without additional investment in infrastructure (other than for a DSL modem). Other broadband options include coaxial cable or fibre-optic connections, although these options may not be available or affordable in many developing countries.

Broadband wireless technologies such as WiMAX,83 or third generation mobile or satellite Internet access are possibilities wherever fixed lines are unavailable.84 Examples of various technologies used around the world to provide Internet access to schools are shown in the table below.

Table 3-5: Internet connectivity technologies




Most common narrowband connectivity option; uses existing telephone network. Can incur significant costs if telephone usage charges must be paid.


Connectivity provided over telephone line network, generally limited to 128 kbps. Like dial-up, connection must be initiated and terminated by user; service is not always-on. Can incur significant costs if telephone line usage charges must be paid.


Mobile technology using GSM networks providing narrowband access at speeds roughly similar to dial-up.


A GSM-based technology that can provide theoretical speeds of up to 1 Mbps, depending on the implementation. Actual speeds vary tremendously. Used for Internet connectivity in some Kenyan schools.85


A third-generation (3G) mobile technology providing speeds up to 384 kbps.


A broadband 3G mobile technology.


A 3G mobile cellular broadband technology based on CDMA2000. Being used to connect schools in Guatemala and Indonesia.86


Used by schools in a number of countries. Requires telephone line connection.

Cable modem

Provides broadband over cable television networks. Not widely deployed in developing countries.


Local Area Network (LAN) technology. A wired alternative to Wi-Fi.


Provides very high bandwidth but costs significantly more than other options. Generally used in tertiary institutions and urban schools in developed countries.

Fixed Wireless Access

Provides wireless Internet access using proprietary technology. Macedonia has connected all of its schools using fixed wireless access technology.87

Wi-Fi (802.11)

Not an Internet access technology but rather a wireless local area connectivity solution for extending the Internet access throughout a school. Wi-Fi mesh networks can be used to distribute resources from computers to computers, reducing reliance on Internet access.

WiMAX (802.16)

Used by schools in several countries including Nigeria88 and the Philippines.89


Satellite technology generally used to provide Internet access to rural schools. Examples include Argentina, Malawi and Thailand.

Countries should take into consideration the state of their communications networks when they identify the technology to be used to connect schools. However, they can also take a technology-neutral approach, allowing any technology to be used to provide connectivity. This approach is often preferable, particularly when there are a variety of different school environments and where not all technologies may be available for each school. This flexibility needs to be weighed against the benefits of obtaining economy of scale and the full support a large project might receive by selecting a particular standard.

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