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The Covid-19 pandemic crisis has been one of the toughest challenges faced by mankind. It has affected the entire globe and not one sector or industry was spared. Severe socio-economic disruption resulted from lockdowns paralyzing all activities. But, amid all the chaos, the telecom sector played a pivotal role in keeping the world connected and providing innovative solutions to accommodate the “new normal”.

During the lockdown period, several organizations shifted to work for home, turned to virtual meetings and video calls etc., which has led to an unexpected surge in fixed and mobile network traffic. Therefore, the importance of telecom services and data demand has grown tremendously where telecom network operators have had to accommodate swiftly in order to mitigate the pandemic impact and assure the continuity of telecom network.

Increased data consumption made the operation and maintenance of telecom network further complex. In order to maintain telecom services, all telecom sites are being continuously monitored and maintained.

What was the telcos’ response to this crisis?

  • Increase in network transport capacity: Due to Covid-19 lockdown, demands for mobile broadband spiked as most of the people are forced to stay home. Many telcos have eased their 3G/4G/5G network speed to provide users with proper Internet connections to stay connected without any disruption.
  • Enhancement in 5G technology: This is the right time for mobile network operators (MNOs) to build and deploy 5G networks to wide geographical areas including towns and villages.
  • Comprehend each customer segment’s value and tailor solutions accordingly: Telcos are partnering with technology companies to understand customer behavior using technologies like AI, machine learning and data analytics. With deeper insights gained, telcos are adjusting their service offerings to customer segments to satisfy their demands in the current and post-COVID-world. 
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched its Keep Americans Connected initiative to help ensure that Americans don’t lose critical telecommunications services they depend on. Broadband wireline and wireless service providers that have signed the pledge have agreed not to terminate service if a customer can’t afford to pay bills due to the pandemic, to waive late fees resulting from economic hardship, and to expand the availability of their Wi-Fi hotspots.

According to the GSMA’s report, 2020 Telecommunications Industry Roundup, as operators continue to improve current services to keep up with the demand for better connectivity and stable internet connection, many have started to deploy core networks dedicated to IoT. This is to allow operators to ensure service quality and meet specific network requirements of enterprise customers, including localized coverage and time-sensitive networking. Compared to more exposed sectors such as retail and tourism, manufacturers are revisiting strategies and adjusting operational models. Shocks to demand and supply chains associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to accelerate adoption of technologies like cloud, automation, and advanced IoT.

According to GSMA Intelligence in 2020, 7.9 billion mobile connections are forecasted to increase to 8.6 billion by 2025. There will be 600 million new added connections in which two-thirds of it are coming from Asia Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. To grow revenue and cut costs in a low-growth economic environment, operators are increasingly seeking ways to develop the mobile ecosystem. This development stage is made more complicated by the demanding requirements of 5G services, i.e. high speed, low latency, and ultra-reliability. Mobile operators will need to evolve networks – using innovations such as virtual RAN, edge networking, and network automation – to meet the demands of the 5G era. Operators will also need to diversify revenue streams into areas such as media and entertainment, advertising, and IoT to seek growth beyond providing core telecommunications services.

In summary, 2020 has demonstrated that the telecommunications sector played an integral role in supporting consumers’ wellbeing by maintaining ability to keep in touch with family and friends while staying productive in their work. However, to meet future opportunities in this new societal landscape, the Next and New Normal will demand the reinvention of operators’ business models to embed further agility and resilience.

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