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Telecom will be key to adjust to a new lifestyle after COVID-19

While we’re in the midst of a global crisis it’s hard to think what the world will be like afterwards. We may have friends, colleagues or relatives that have had this disease. We are likely to know people who have lost their jobs and businesses, or have had to take tough decisions about their means of livelihood. Or, we may have suffered ourselves. In the middle of all of this, it’s natural to assume that we’ll return to how we lived before COVID-19 arrived. But global challenges at this scale usually leave behind some tough permanent changes.

The telecom industry has seen the impact of the immediate behavioural changes as people were asked to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. In countries where home broadband and stable Wifi setups are common, this has led to a surge in the time spent by smartphone users online (via WiFi). Across India, we have not seen the same effect because people here typically rely more on their mobile data connections than on WiFi, as compared to those in many other countries.

Despite more time spent on WiFi, mobile speeds have at best stayed the same, and in many countries, have even fallen slightly because many operators have relaxed mobile data limits. Also, networks are supporting mobile users who are spending more time in residential areas, versus business locations during daylight hours – and who are using their phones to relieve boredom by playing mobile games and watching video content.

When the pandemic is over, will people return to their old lifestyles? It’s very possible that some may continue to work from home because they find video communication tools a great way to avoid long commutes to work. Telecom companies may need to retool their offerings to provide the right connectivity to new home workers. Software companies may need to alter their product plans to enable features that meet new needs of the economy and of a changed society.

In many countries, we’ve seen interest in temporary spectrum loans to help telecom operators add capacity and support increased Internet usage during the COVID crisis.

With both mobile and fixed connectivity clearly confirmed as a critical part of life, how will regulators approach the post-pandemic world? Could temporary spectrum loans become permanent? Should regulators alter their plans to reduce spectrum prices or alter regulations to help operators offer fast broadband to more people and support more data usage? It’s too early to know. But operators will be arguing that the telecom industry needs increased support through lower fee structures because of how valuable connectivity has been during the crisis.

Travel restrictions have caused the wireless industry to delay agreement on the next version of the 5G standard. This crisis has shown the importance of reliable and fast connectivity as everyone uses it to replace our normal in-person life. With economies around the world struggling, vendors may come under pressure to reduce the costs of 5G equipment more quickly to help 5G uptake. This should help India’s 5G development. Smartphone makers were already launching cheaper 5G models prior to the pandemic. Apple’s recent launch of a new lower-priced iPhone, the 2020 iPhone SE, will put further pressure on Android smartphone makers to launch 5G phones at lower price points to entice users.

Mobile technology is now associated with health because of the pandemic at hand. South Korean authorities used it to contain COVID-19 during early stages of the crisis. Apple and Google are collaborating to quickly bring an update to iPhones and Android smartphones to aid contact tracing to help us suppress the disease. Intriguingly it uses Bluetooth, not GPS, and is designed to protect user privacy. Apple has long sought to put health at the heart of its mobile strategy, but Android players are still struggling for that.

Across the technology industry, companies are collaborating to beat the COVID-19 crisis. Apple and Google are arch rivals but they’re now working together, because it is the best way to help their customers and society. Operators are collaborating too, both with each other and with direct competitors. The GSMA, the world’s primary telecom regulator, is coordinating wherever possible.

The mobile industry has always gained from international co-operation, which drives standards and lowers costs for operators and users. Hopefully, the unusual collaborations between competitors we are seeing at the moment will persist in the post-COVID 19 world and help us in accelerating technological progress. And, the clear importance of connectivity will cause regulators to think about how best to support telecom operators in order to offer a great network experience to users long after the crisis has ended.

―Times Now

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