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How has COVID-19 influenced the telecoms industry so far?

The coronavirus pandemic forced the world into some very dramatic changes, with connectivity critical for continuity; but what are the trends worth keeping an eye on now?

There are some very obvious impacts to the telecoms industry, a slowdown on 5G deployment for example, but there are also some very interesting developments in the peripheries. This is by no means an exhaustive list of how the telecoms and technology segment has been influenced by COVID-19, but it is some of the more interesting areas as far as we’re concerned.

Cloud computing is more than a nice idea

This is a segment which was already very profitable, though the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to act as a catalyst for some very lucrative years ahead.

The world has been forced through a digital transformation programme to ensure business continuity and some semblance of normality in our personal lives. The demand for collaboration, remote working and video conferencing services, as well as SaaS applications is obvious to most, and there are certainly companies who are profiting from this surge.

Company Share price Change since April 1
Google 1,505.91 +36.71%
Amazon 3,038.61 +59.41%
Microsoft 211.38 +39.10%
Oracle 56.32 +15.75%
IBM 117.68 +11.93%

The companies highlighted above are at the top of the pile, but there are also more niche firms such as Zoom, Deliveroo and Mimecast have also benefited from the dramatic shift to our personal and working lives. The question which remains is how many of these changes will be retained in the future?

Zoom will most likely fade away as the pubs open and the bigger cloud players sort out their own video conferencing offering. Deliveroo demand will fade as the restaurants open. Streaming services will of course remain popular, but usage will return to previous levels, which were already high.

The enterprise world is where the biggest changes will likely be seen. When we asked Telecoms.com readers, 34% of respondents believed they would be allowed to work as they please in the future, while 50% said they would have to check into the office a few times a week. There will be some companies returning the traditional office dynamic, but more enlightened firms will see business can operate remotely and there are benefits.

Research has shown employees are generally more satisfied with a remote working set up while productivity can be maintained. Office spaces can be reduced also, saving money for the company. Shifting from an on-premise business model to a cloud-based one is a considerable change, but the COVID-19 lockdown has certainly shown it is possible.

Digital payments are becoming the norm

When cheque books were phased out, there was resistance. There was also those who hated the idea of contactless payments over chip and pin. And don’t even talk about the idea of replacing physical cash. That is until COVID-19 hit.

COVID-19 made people and retailers afraid of cash. The World Health Organisation (WHO) corrected itself by confirming touching physical cash was not going to be any danger to the general public, but numerous retailers started refusing cash payments. There might have been some resistance to digital payments in the weeks and months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a digital evolution was forced on society.

According to research from Bain & Company, COVID-19 has had a material impact on the digital payments landscape. Prior to lockdown, the team predicted digital payments would account for 57% of all transactions in 2025, but this estimate has been increased to 67% of all transactions. COVID-19 has seemingly forced some of those resisting to evolve.

The App Economy has found its feet

The App Economy has been a thing for years, but the rapid digital journey over the last few months is encouraging society to be more embracing of new ideas. And apps are at the top of this list.

Not only have new social media platforms (TikTok) and communication services (Zoom) grown during this period, but business are now searching for new ways to engage customers. The high street may well have been irreversibly damaged, meaning new ways to engage and retain customers are needed.

Juniper Research believes one way this evolution will be realised is through the creation and expansion of digital loyalty programmes. Retail markets are becoming increasingly commoditised, while the platform business model is growing quickly. Digital loyalty programmes can be one way to offer additional value, but also making better use of customer data to offer omnichannel loyalty experiences, combing offline and online.

The App Economy is already progressing healthily, but the detrimental impact from COVID-19 will force more high street retail businesses to embrace the digital experience in order to retain customers.

Security is given a facelift in a remote working world

Cybersecurity was already an issue prior to societal lockdown, but it is a completely different question now.

In our personal lives, with more of the world being defined through digital channels, more consideration will have to be given to cybersecurity. In the corporate realms, the security dynamic has been altered; engineers will have to think about how to ensure security when employees are working remotely, accessing cloud resources at will. These are new considerations for most CIOs.

“Consumers are in a position of vulnerability at the moment and are arguably even more at risk of being scammed as lockdown weariness sets in and the prospect of restrictions ending edges closer to reality,” said Keiron Dalton of authentication company Payfone.

“Whether it’s through phishing emails, malware-laden mobile apps, SIM swap fraud or convincing social engineering ploys that con people into giving up credit card or login details, cybercriminals are poised to act on people’s fears and steal valuable data and credentials as best they can.”

With less face-to-face verification taking place nowadays, the one-dimensional approach to customer authentication has to evolve. Static passwords, SMS OTP or biometrics can all be compromised, but new technologies such as mobile intelligence-based approach to ID verification can prevent fraudulent transactions.

This is with respect to consumer transactions, but the same vulnerabilities can be seen with remote working. The traditional digital protections for an enterprise organisation are not going to work in a world where mobility is king, therefore there will have to be rapid evolution and expenditure in these more dynamic systems.

A surge in fibre broadband demand?

Should remote working remain a constant for the majority, some households will seriously have to thing about upgrading broadband contracts. For households with more than one individual streaming simultaneously, the broadband connection will certainly be tested. In some cases, individuals might have to connect to remote applications on top of these video streams, straining the broadband connection further.

One of the main reasons full-fibre connectivity has not been adopted by the mass market to date has been the need to. Copper services have been sufficient to date, with some questioning why spending extra each month would even be a consideration. This is especially relevant in markets such as the UK where fibre broadband is materially more expensive. But when your home is your office, there might be a need for fibre.

What could emerge is corporate support for employees. In the same way that some employers pay for mobile contracts for employees who need them, broadband services could be subsidized; it would be unfair to force employees to pay for fibre connectivity when it is being used for work purposes.

Company Homes passed (2019-end) Fibre penetration (2019-end)
UK 12.0% 2.5%
Germany 11.6% 3.2%
Spain 81.9% 46.1%
France 46.1% 21.5%

Source: Omdia

As you can see from the table above, the telecoms operators are not the most successful at selling fibre services to customers. Even in Spain, where penetration is 46.1%, this is only 56% success at converting homes passed. 100% penetration is not a realistic ambition, but some might have assumed these numbers would be more attractive.

However, remote working might act as a catalyst. A specific usecase would make the price more tolerable, even more so if your company is subsidising the expense.

Streaming and gaming drive content to the edge

Although this is not necessarily a new trend, the importance of a more distributed network and building out edge compute capabilities has been highlighted during this period. This is perhaps due to the stress which has been placed on networks, thanks to video conferencing or gaming for instance, but it is a story which is continuing to unfold.

Like many other trends which are emerging, the future is slightly uncertain. The edge will continue to be important in telecoms operator plans, though the level of this importance will be defined by how many companies retain remote working capabilities. A sustained change in working habits might mean a rethink in deployment plans for telecoms operators.

What remains to be seen in this segment of the connectivity world is how relevant the telecoms companies are. Let’s not forget, the cloud champions are searching for additional revenues streams and are probing the telecoms industry. The likes of AWS or Microsoft Azure will not build their own telecoms networks, but they are currently deploying edge infrastructure.

When we asked Telecoms.com readers in a poll, 69% of the respondents believed the internet giants viewed the telecoms operators as a dumb pipe which offered access to an existing customer base. This does not necessarily suggest a level partnership in pursuit of profits in the edge, but the ecosystem is still developing.

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