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Telecom sector in the midst of Covid-19

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The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted industries and businesses all across the globe and has brought the world economy to a halt, with millions of people placed under lockdown. With most of society working and studying from home, the need for technology has increased considerably, and the significant rise in the use of digital tools during social distancing has put the telecommunications sector at the forefront in facilitating the situation.

Now that the global supply chain has been thrown into chaos and the work-from-home concept has become the “new normal“, the need of remote communication has risen significantly so as to ensure business continuity. The telecommunication sector is witnessing significantly higher demands, as they play a key role in facilitating the connectivity required by customers implementing  these essential digital tools .

 Rise of demand for Telco services

With the rise in demand for networking and telecommunication infrastructure and connectivity, the threat of straining the existing system has arisen too. As a result, EU Commission executives proposed a number of measures to mitigate the potential strain on the Internet due to the increased number of users. Other preventative actions were initiated by ISPs and Telcos by prioritizing traffic and delaying infrastructure upgrades for the time being in order to prevent outages. The limitation of maintenance and network upgrades is considered to possibly have the largest impact of coronavirus on the telecom industry, as it has resulted in surplus traffic in a congested system. The statistics of internet traffic vary from country to country, but according to statista.com, “in the week ending June 14, online traffic across 20 different industries increased by 10.2 percent compared to the reference period in January and February 2020. Online transactions increased by 32.9 percent compared to the index period”. Even though the usage statistics have decreased since the beginning of the pandemic, the Covid-19 outbreak has exposed the fact that many telecommunication providers are unable to facilitate  an unexpected  increase  in traffic.

Delay in 5G deployment

Another problem that the telecom sector had to face was the possible slow down in 5G deployment. Back in March, Huawei warned that 5G’s European rollout would “certainly be delayed”. The setback in 5G deployment was seen in a number of European countries including Portugal, Austria, Spain, France and the Czech Republic. Major telecommunication providers such as Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson also warned of delays with more of the Covid-19 effects unfolding. But as Europe’s 5G roll out is slowing down, other countries are accelerating investments in 5G in response to the pandemic, one of those countries being China, where the 5G growth remains stable. The US 5G rollout also seems more or less on schedule, where Verizon and Qualcomm said they are on track despite the challenges caused by the novel coronavirus. With more businesses coming forward and speaking out regarding the effects of the pandemic on their future plans, the toll of this pandemic is becoming more apparent. Despite the strength of the global 5G network deployment, regional disparities are beginning to surface due to the localized impact of Covid-19. According to Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, “Globally, 5G remains the fast-growing generation of wireless cellular technology ever, even as the world is gripped with a pandemic. In North America, we are seeing consistent, strong uptake of new 5G subscribers as new devices have been released that can take advantage of low-band and millimeter wave frequencies. At the same time, new network capabilities are being added.“ In Canada and parts of Europe, 5G spectrum auctions are falling behind, delaying the launch of 5G in some regions by several months or more.

Rise in cybersecurity risks

With our lives and work being transferred into the digital world, more consideration has to be given to cyber security, as the risk of cyberattacks increases. Cyber security has been an important issue before quarantine, but now it is a whole other matter. With the change of security dynamics within the business environment, engineers have to think about how to ensure security when employees work remotely. The data gathered by PreciseSecurity.com reveals that the telecoms industry is the most aware of the risks of cyber crime, and three quarters of the firms in the sector feel threatened. Rightfully so, with more people working from home a much larger risk exists and exponentially more endpoints have to be protected. Telecom S.A., Argentina’s largest telecommunications company, has been in the center of one the biggest threats during this time. Also, UAE‘s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is said to have responded to approximately 103,408 cyber-attacks during the month of June. With Covid-19, telecommunications companies are facing both opportunities and challenges. As the industry is experiencing a rise in demand resulting in new revenue opportunities, it is also encountering increased pressure to protect the network by having to switch from reactive security protocols to proactive ones.

Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic a large proportion of the global population has travel limitations and cannot freely go to work or visit people, having affordable and accessible ways to reach out and communicate is more valued and appreciated than ever before.

Telcos serving communities

Telecom operators have never been more relevant than they are today, keeping people, businesses, educational institutions and organizations connected. For mobile network providers, this is an opportunity to serve communities while building trust. Unfortunately, while social distancing has become the norm, society needs to remember that the aim of this practice  is to distance ourselves physically from others. Yet, remaining socially connected virtually is necessary for our safety, sanity and our best attempts to keep the economy moving. Telecommunication providers give people the ability to maintain some aspect of their ‘normal’ lives through safe digital channels. Telcos also provide a platform for sending messages to people with public health updates, to ensure that people follow public safety guidelines and receive the most accurate information. Moreover, the industry helps enterprises stay in business and provides the necessary services for the public to remain connected from the comfort of their own home. There is no question that telecommunications and digital services are vital for many across the world when coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.

VoIP telephony to improve business

One thing that can be learnt from this Covid-19 pandemic is that communication is the foundation of every business’s success. In fact, with the business environment changing and evolving, VoIP telephony or Internet telephony could be the optimum choice for enterprises to improve business both during and after the pandemic. Undoubtedly, VoIP telephony is a powerful tool for effective business communications and continuity, as a VoIP phone system is a beneficial solution that encourages distributed workforce collaboration and maintains efficient workflow by letting the staff members function as a team, even if they are miles apart. These services allow employees to have easy access to each other through conferencing, video calling and instant messaging, using a mobile, laptop, computer and tablets. Switching from a traditional phone system to a cloud-based phone system can be a beneficial solution for any business, helping to increase efficiency and reduce business costs. Using VoIP phone systems can save up to 65% of costs compared to the traditional phone system, and makes it easier and more convenient for customers to reach businesses from any part of the world.

During this unprecedented time, in general the communication service providers (CSPs) have shown a sense of urgency, purpose and empathy. The role of the telecommunications sector in keeping people and businesses connected has been an unquestionably essential service during this Covid-19 crisis.

Support during crisis

Supporting this dramatic change has not been easy, but operators have shown that they are agile and determined in offering customers relief packages, while working hard to enable networks to cope with increased demand. Communication service providers have taken steps to remove data caps for fixed broadband services in order to protect vulnerable customers. Some CSPs have provided free access to vital services, including online health and education resources. In some countries, regulators have released additional frequency spectrums to allow Telcos to expand their coverage and capacity. Telecommunications providers have increased their support for national healthcare systems, national and local governments, business and individual consumers. In China, three telecom operators, including Huawei, cooperated with the government and the health care authorities to build emergency 5G networks for the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in only three days. In the UK, telecommunications companies BT, Sky, O2, Vodafone and Virgin Media have all partnered with the Ofcom regulator to launch a national campaign across digital social media and in direct communication with tens of millions of customers that have signed up for broadband, mobile and TV deals. Also, as a response to Covid-19, DIDWW has enabled free outbound calling via local routes to Covid-19 hotlines in 17 countries, with the result  that these DIDWW users can reach their local Covid-19 hotlines without any charges. Zoom, a company that had immense growth during this pandemic, has provided free services and technical support to NGOs, such as charitable foundations and medical institutions, to help with disaster relief. In addition, they have launched a video conference platform that supports online education and research for all universities and colleges. Telefónica made every effort to ensure that its networks operate reliably and securely at full capacity, while protecting the health of its employees and working with healthcare institutions and social agents. Also, the company has increased the mobile data allowance for their subscribers at no extra charge, as well as providing enhanced educational content on the Foundation’s online learning platforms. Infobip is taking care of its community too. To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the company is offering its free global cloud communication platform to public health and government institutions. Along with these companies mentioned, there are many more operators who have contributed to aiding the fight against Covid-19.

All in all

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Telcos have been connecting people, businesses, organizations and governments. The Covid-19 crisis has created an opportunity for industry leaders to expand their services and product range, and also generate profits. However, these effects are considered to be short-term. The pandemic has not been halted, and we do not know whether it will come full blast again or not, however, the telecom sector has been tested and is ready for what is to come. Overall, in the post-COVID-19 era, the telecom sector is expected to perform well as the world becomes more interconnected and companies are better prepared for such unpredictabilities.