Staying Connected in a Post-COVID-19 World: Questions for Global Companies to Consider

Connectivity has been called “a defining feature of the modern economy and one of the significant trends of the 21st century.” Telecommunications networks support all aspects of a business, from ecommerce to team collaboration to customer service. Problems like poor coverage, insufficient bandwidth, outages, and downtime can significantly damage a company’s operations, reputation, revenues, and ROI.

For your next global business endeavor, you will need telecommunications infrastructure that supports your goals. Each region’s environment is unique, with different carriers, technologies, regulations, obstacles, and opportunities. Once you’ve committed to a market presence, a local industry expert can help you vet the options and manage the details. Before this step, however, you should include telecom as part of a new market evaluation.

Here are some places to start.

Examine connectivity trends, uses, and needs

Where will people be connecting from? This is likely very different now than it was a year ago. For example, as companies realize the efficiencies and cost savings of remote work, and consumers continue their at-home habits of online shopping, network traffic has shifted from business to residential areas. As a result, mobile and fixed networks may play an even bigger part of critical infrastructure.

What will they be doing?  If your business operations involve activities like streaming video, gaming, cloud computing, or collaborative work, you’ll need copious amounts of bandwidth and high levels of availability.

What kind of technologies will the network need to support?  For many companies, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of innovations like edge computing, machine learning, robotics and the internet of things (IoT). This presents further considerations for telecommunications infrastructure.

Edge computing processes information closer to users and devices, rather than sending data to more central locations in the cloud. Companies recognized its power and potential during the network traffic surges of recent months. Edge computing also reduces latency, which makes it well-suited for processing time-sensitive data, and facilitates sophisticated, computationally intensive applications like deep learning.

Machine labor—like AI, robotics, and more—is another area expected to rise in the wake of COVID-19 as companies are forced to work more efficiently, cost-effectively, and competitively while maintaining employee health and safety. In an IDC 2020 supply chain survey, 73% of respondents deemed robotics as “important” or “very important” in the next three years.

Furthermore, while COVID-19  has negatively impacted the adoption of new IoT devices in some industries, IoT overall—especially industrial  IoT—is predicted to remain strong. Several valuable applications include remote asset control and vision-based control systems for employee health and safety.

If your international business strategy involves these or other connectivity-intensive innovations, you’ll need advanced telecommunications infrastructure that can rise to the challenge.

Look at 5G availability and applications

This advanced infrastructure may include 5G, one of the biggest buzzwords in telecom today. As the next evolution of wireless connectivity, 5G promises to empower data- and IoT-intensive functions through increased speed, network capacity, reliability, and availability.

In agriculture, for instance, 5G connections are allowing farmers to automate agricultural processes and gather new data.  Drones and buildings equipped with 5G are helping to improve potato production in the Netherlands, and in Japan, oyster farms are using 5G sensors to control water temperature and salt content.

To 5G or not to 5G? ? In the words of a recent CNET article: “5G uptake relies on two things: network availability and handsets,” and nations vary in their response and readiness. Uruguay, for example has 5G commercially ready and is the first Latin American nation to do  so, while other nations, like Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador run more on 4G.   In Canada and parts of the European Union, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed spectrum auctions and pushed out 5G launches. Meanwhile, carriers in the United States, China, and other regions continue to expand service into more markets.

Plans for, and the pace of, 5G adoption can depend on many factors, including:

  • The number of consumers expected to buy 5G-enabled smartphones, which may be fewer in the COVID-19 economic downturn
  • Security concerns related to Chinese technology giant Huawei
  • A nation’s openness (or resistance) to this technology

“5G is a capital improvement project the size of the entire planet, replacing one wireless architecture created this century with another one that aims to lower energy consumption and maintenance costs,” writes ZDNet.  “It’s also a huge gamble on the future of transmission technology, doubling down on consumers’ willingness to upgrade.”

Evaluate the overarching environment

Telecommunications infrastructure does not operate in a vacuum. Broader issues to consider in your assessment include:

The sustainability of network resilience: COVID-19 will not be the world’s final public health crisis, unfortunately, and when the next one happens, you want telecom infrastructure that won’t buckle under the pressure. Not only could excessive demand on mobile and communications networks affect service quality, they could catalyze a ripple effect of longer-term impacts.

For instance, according to the IFC, “Higher demand for connectivity may be counterbalanced by a series of negative shocks. These could affect broadband operators and smaller companies, leading to less competition, limited availability of open-access broadband infrastructure, and reduced technological innovation.”

Government and private-sector actions to improve the situation: In some countries, national  telecom operators gave subscribers extra data and speed boosts. Many regions benefitted from financial aid like stimulus packages in the U.S. or fast-track financing by the IFC . Have similar programs been activated in the markets you’re considering?

Cybersecurity: AI, cloud computing, multiple layers of telecommunications infrastructure—connectivity today includes all of these and more. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has demonstrated how important it is to keep these complex networks up and running and protected against cyber attack.

What does the threat landscape look like in a given market? How are telecom operations and government agencies working to make networks more secure? “Now that networks have evolved, it’s time for telecom regulation to evolve,” declares a recent blog for the IEEE Communications Society.

Investments for the future: A region’s innovation ecosystem—in academia, incubators, industry, and public-private partnerships—will pave the way for further technological progress.

Telecommunications infrastructure is just one of many areas to evaluate in your international business strategy. However, it’s an increasingly important one, impacting your company’s daily operations, growth, and potential for innovation.

Ready to get started? Specialized consultants and advisors can help you evaluate your connectivity needs and the telecom infrastructure in global markets. For more information, contact us