For the first time, ITW’s signature event has moved to being a virtual event in 2020 following the unprecedented challenge posed by Covid-19. The telecoms industry has been on the frontline to enterprises and consumers around the world to deliver the services upon which they rely throughout the pandemic. Of course, it’s thanks to the industry that the ITW event is able to take place virtually too.
Once the current pandemic is over, what is the future for connectivity in a post Covid-19 world?
Much of the world has experienced or is continuing to experience significant disruption to everyday life with lockdowns, restrictions on movement and a variety of different rules and regulations affecting cross border trade and movement. Economies have suffered record drops in output with manufacturing and service industries affected.
How long will this go on for?
Attendees at the opening keynote at ITW were asked how long does the industry expect the current situation to last? Two-thirds of them believe it will last for the next 6-12 months, with some expecting it to be even longer. Consequently, it’s fair to say that the situation will have a marked impact on the telecoms industry for the foreseeable future and some things may change forever.
The biggest change that we’ve seen has been the shift to remote working. With offices around the world closed, many businesses have instructed as many workers as possible to work from home or some other remote workspace. Some, such as Facebook, Twitter and other large enterprises have seen over 95% of people working this way. Twitter has come out recently to announce that it will continue to allow staff to work this way from now on.
For the telecoms industry this shift in working has seen a major shift in traffic patterns. Bandwidth has moved from large offices in the city to local ISP’s, stressing infrastructure that’s seen a year or more’s worth of data traffic growth in just a few days, over 30% in many cases. It’s not just work-related traffic thought hat’s increased. Traffic to social media sites such as Facebook has also seen 30+% traffic growth and of course many people who are not working have been enjoying the plethora or streaming services that are available. The industry has worked hard to deliver and maintain this critical infrastructure, the Internet kept working, it didn’t melt down.
Remote working – an ongoing trend
The industry and other experts agree that there’s likely to be a shift towards more remote working. Staff have become used to it over the last few months and for many it’s had a real benefit to their work-life balance. For many businesses who were previously not entirely behind home working, they’ve actually found it to be beneficial in many cases. Staff are more productive and more relaxed, and it’s allowed them to continue to do business. Evidence from ITW attendees suggests that around 30% of people are now asking to work permanently from home and many others will be looking to spend perhaps only a few days in the office. For the telecoms industry this will result in a change of direction with more investment in ‘local’ infrastructure to support the increased numbers of people working in more suburban areas.
Governments for years have been looking at ways to encourage investment in fibre networks, particularly to homes and rural areas. With the levels of traffic being modest previously they had a hard job encouraging providers to invest in these areas of low return. But now the priorities have changed, expect governments and providers to work more closely in the future to speed up the deliver of superfast networks, safe in the knowledge that there’s the demand for them.
Growth of the cloud
Besides remote working levels the biggest change has been the paradigm shift to digital services. Whilst previously enterprises have made use of on-premises networks and applications, moving people out of a central location has meant shifting applications and files to the cloud. Businesses that had already chosen to do this pre-Covid-19 were better placed when the call came to batten down and weather the storm than those who had yet to make the leap.
The evidence now suggest that the industry is expecting a faster shift to digital transformation. This will mean the faster development and deployment of tools and solutions for business and individuals than had previously been anticipated. More offers will come online, encouraging more shifting to the cloud and the flexibility and resilience that this offers.
Business travel makes up a significant part of global air passenger numbers. The pandemic prompted a collapse in the number of flights as face to face meetings were abandoned in favour of video calls and other methods of communication. Whilst these meetings are often considered valuable, the practice of this method of travel can have a negative impact on our environment. We all recognise the work that healthcare and other key workers have done for our society during these difficult times. The telco industry itself has a responsibility to keep communities and industries going through difficult times.
Our environment and society will benefit from the pandemic
In the future there will be more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) drivers in both the business and telecoms communities. This will be formed around several main areas. Firstly, though passenger numbers will increase, it’s likely that there will be a significant, and long-term trend in flight reduction. For the environment that means lower CO2 emissions and for business, lower travel costs. We are now starting to appreciate our environment more, months of reduced industrial activity and travel has significantly improved our air quality. The telco industry is well placed to continue to invest in and develop tools such as unified communications that will allow business to conduct more ‘virtual’ meetings which will help improve our environment for the long term.
Secondly the sense of community around the world has increased. People are talking to each other more than ever before, spending time with their families and friends online and making use of technology around the home. Telecoms has a vital role to play in continuing this community feel and is expected to work increasingly closely with governments around the world to deliver connectivity to those communities which are most ‘under connected’ and bringing the world closer together.
What the industry needs to do most
The primary challenge for the industry will face in the future though is to avoid going back to the old ways of doing things. Enterprises and consumers shouldn’t try to wipeout all those changes, instead embrace them and the industry will develop them further and ultimately that’s going to be better for us all.