By Nermin Mohamed, Head of Telecommunications Solutions at Wind River
A dozen faces boxed in a video conference window, representing a team that used to work in a single office but is now spread across four states. A child wearing oversized headphones sitting in front of a video monitor, staring intently at her teacher’s math lesson. A doctor receiving patient scans that have been triaged by an AI program to identify the most serious cases for review.
These are just a few of the scenarios that have become commonplace since the COVID-19 virus emerged. The pandemic has spread worldwide, affecting rich and poor, small countries and large ones. Governments, utilities, companies, and organizations have struggled with the reality of a pandemic that has closed borders, cities, workplaces, and schools—changing the daily routines of hundreds of millions of people.
Disruption on a global scale
COVID-19 has disrupted all facets of the global economy. Supply chains have fractured, and business operations have been forced to adapt to rapidly shifting conditions. With plane flights and business trips cancelled, people have struggled to find opportunities for collaboration and innovation that work outside the structures of traditional business meetings and conferences.
The pandemic has changed so much about our daily lives. Children have learned how to use video programs for school as easily as they switch to online games in place of recess time or after-school sports. In homes around the world, people are dealing with everything from layoffs to evictions to the heartbreaking loss of a beloved family member.
The new normal
Social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds and indoor spaces has become the new normal for people across the globe. Telecommuting has become the new standard for office workers, with video conferences and online chats replacing in-person coffee meetups. Teachers and students have been figuring out how to teach and learn effectively, without the one-on-one classroom interactions that were the hallmark of quality education. Doctors and medical researchers are sharing online data repositories as they collaborate on the search for treatments and vaccines.
Despite the disparate situations, everyone affected by the pandemic has one thing in common: a massive increase in using telecommunications to stay connected. Telcos have reported huge jumps in data usage, video calls, picture and text messaging, streaming entertainment, and gaming. From business to science to consumers, broadband has become a necessity for modern living, as important to our health and welfare as water, oxygen, and electricity.
The supporting role of Telcos
Telecommunications companies have been stepping up to provide increase bandwidth and coverage, in large part by accelerating 5G deployments. While much was accomplished in 2020, it is now clear that networks need to be upgraded and strengthened to face the ongoing demands of everyone affected by the pandemic. For example, the coordination of producing, distributing, and administering vaccines requires fast, reliable, secure connectivity that supports a wide range of communications, from small town doctors to government planners and on to global pharmaceutical companies.
COVID-19 has also accelerated the development of AI tools to fight the pandemic. Doctors and nurses can use telemedicine and AI to quickly determine a course of treatment for a patient. Building security systems can incorporate thermal imaging to detect raised body temperature and block entry to a potentially infected employee. Labs, working 24/7 on vaccines and treatments, can use AI to analyze virus strains from hundreds of thousands of samples and automatically communicate results to teams and partners across the globe.
The rise of 5G
5G can play a key role in meeting the increasing demand for telecommunications from all sectors because it offers a massive improvement over 4G in terms of speed, latency, number of connection points, and range. Even before the pandemic, 2020 had been planned as the first year of 5G commercialization. The pace of 5G deployments greatly surpassed the rollout numbers of all previous generations. According to Omdia research data, there were more than 180 5G networks serving in excess of 220 million subscribers by December 2020. To put that growth into perspective, the first year of 4G rollout deployed only 20 networks with 400,000 subscribers.
5G as a fast, reliable, and secure ecosystem has been key to winning quick acceptance in the marketplace. From smartphones to CPE routers to IoT offerings, more than 500 5G-enabled devices have already been announced. With the world facing a second year of pandemic-induced changes, now is definitely the time for the rise of 5G. CSPs in every region are pivoting resources and budgets to increase their 5G penetration and looking at how to better address the needs of business, science, government, and consumer market segments in 2021 and beyond.
5G is being commercialized at a very fast pace to meet the challenges of life during the pandemic. But when it comes to 5G deployment, the challenges vary from one region to another. In part 2 of our blog series, we will look at 5G deployment scenarios, applications, and values for different regions.