How AT&T’s 5G Can Help Bridge the Digital Divide


AT&T EVP and GM of Partnerships & 5G Ecosystem Development David Christopher joined a collective of industry executives and education leaders to share insights and opinions on how the metaverse will change education.

The discussion, moderated by Fast Company’s Ted Brown, focused specifically on how advancements in technology and 5G networks could help bridge the digital divide and change the way we interact with the world around us, consume information and learn.

“This is one of the biggest leaps since the days of the mobile internet. With this fusion of 5G and learning with the metaverse, we’re going into some extraordinary times,” says futurist and forensic optimist Chris Riddell. “It’s this fusion of games, augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. But it’s not just those mashed together. It’s a completely new social environment for us to live in and jump out of the crazy world that we’re in at the moment.” Riddell explains this is why technology companies are betting big on the future of the metaverse.

COVID-19 has forced many to explore new ways of consuming information and being entertained, increasing trust of AR and VR technology and setting the stage for metaverse technology to influence humanity in a similar fashion as the mobile internet did decades ago.

“The journey we’re on to the metaverse is what’s interesting,” Christopher said. “Along that journey, we’re going to have deeper immersion into virtual simulated worlds that we’re not just looking upon, but we are within them. The learning opportunities within that journey are endless.”

For example, students of all ages will be able to experience lessons right in front of them as opposed to reading from a 2D textbook. Traditional classroom practices may seem antiquated a decade from now as immersive virtual spaces with activity-oriented class participation through gamification become commonplace.

Christopher reflected the education evolution he’s already witnessed. “I learned geometry a 2D textbook modality, and I struggled. Fast forward to today and I watched my daughter learn via Khan Academy tutorials which had much more engaging visuals that totally changed the learning experience for her.”

“The immersive nature of these technologies and the potential for education, especially for students who aren’t necessarily engaged in school, is huge,” said panel participant Ariam Mogos, a tech lead and educator at Stanford D. School. “Where I think we have to be cautious is thinking about the role of educators and education administrators. The metaverse being composed of many different technologies and tools. To create an effective engaging learning experience, educators have to be versed in these technologies and understand how to design with them.”

Mogos added that as these tools become more ubiquitous, it’s essential that educators of all levels are being empowered with the necessary support and instruction so they can lead from a strong level of understanding.

“Experiential education and the journey of AR and VR to eventually the Metaverse is really applicable to instructional learning,” Christopher says. “Studying anatomy, you are using it to look at the body for deeper understanding in ways that 2D could not do. That’s an amazing capability. We’re seeing those use cases today. And if you are an engineering or architectural student, those are use cases where it really works. In other cases, we’ll have to be really smart to apply it in true value add ways.”

Another major theme during the panel was bridging the digital divide, as technology backed by advanced communications networks could narrow the separation and make it a more level playing ground.

“Emerging technologies and connectivity can be a valuable, quick, and really effective alternative to brick-and-mortar solutions,” Mogos says. “We’re actually seeing a lot more of those AR and VR solutions in countries like India.”

AT&T has made a commitment to invest in next generation learning platforms and programs. Creating networks that are ubiquitous, providing broad access and investing in initiatives that help develop new skills and opportunities for future learners. That’s why AT&T is building on its $2 billion dollar commitment to help close the digital divide.

“The pandemic has proven the acceleration of how we are able to adopt technology,” Riddell says. “We’ve gone around a turning point. We’ve truly seen the amazing possibilities and opportunities technology like this can bring. If we set this platform right now, we’ll define the next 100 years of society that we’ve never ever seen before.”
Christopher adds that harnessing the power of the network is crucial to making the metaverse a reality and have it work for all.

“Building these new capabilities on these advanced networks is critical to making our country more competitive by developing the next generation of leaders. When you combine the power of these networks with these emerging tools, we can fundamentally change education which is a must for society.”