Keeping connected during COVID-19

By Amy Steed
Wednesday, 12 August, 2020

Keeping connected during COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has seen a marked shift in the way individuals and organisations are connecting to one another.

While lockdowns and social restrictions have been in place, people have become more reliant than ever on internet and telecommunications networks.

As demand for bandwidth continues to rise, many industries are undergoing a digital transformation and the race to roll out the most advanced 5G technology has gathered momentum.

How 5G is reshaping industries

While 5G has already penetrated a range of industries and markets around the world, its use has mainly been limited to smaller, more densely populated areas. However, its abilities and applications have proved incredibly useful for a range of industries. For instance, 5G with low latency and greater bandwidth accelerates the rate of data download, enabling the of use real-time data within industrial operations. Images and data can be downloaded much faster with 5G integrated IIoT devices. As a result, data can be easily shared remotely.

High-speed data sharing is achieved using 5G integrated cloud manufacturing solutions. In a 5G network, more data can be downloaded, uploaded and shared among the machines and between the machines and central cloud platform.

5G also increases the pace of robots by increasing the rate of wireless control or programming transfer between robots and the IIoT-based controller. It boosts the processing time and data throughput for robots, enabling robots to be more easily connected to workers and machines. The benefits of using 5G robots were highlighted in Wuhan, China, where the initial outbreak of COVID-19 began. Huawei installed a 5G network on one of the specialist hospitals, with 5G-enabled robots utilised in routine medical care. In order to protect humans from contracting and spreading the virus — as well as give exhausted, overworked medical staff a break from their duties — these robots were able to carry out temperature checks with 5G connected thermometers, provide food and drinks and deliver medications to patients. Vital signs such as heart rate and blood oxygen levels were monitored through smart devices worn by patients at the hospital, and robots cleaned and disinfected hospital floors.

Could widespread 5G adoption be delayed by the pandemic?

Research conducted by GSMA Intelligence found that although 80–95% of adults in most high- and middle-income countries own smartphones, a far smaller percentage had any immediate plans to upgrade to 5G networks. In fact, only 30–40% of the US, European and Australian markets indicated that they intended to upgrade to a 5G smartphone in the foreseeable future.

“The device ecosystem will be critical in shaping the trajectory of 5G adoption,” said Peter Jarich, Head of GSMA Intelligence.

“However, it’s a mistake to believe that consumers in every market will look at 5G upgrades in the same way. Operators and device manufacturers will need to understand consumer demand on a granular level if they hope to make the most of the 5G opportunity.”

Some market analysts have suggested that social isolation will see a marked uptake in 5G connections, with rollouts fast-tracked due to increased demand for connectivity. Others believe that these rollouts will be delayed or halted due to the financial hit that many businesses have taken as a consequence of the pandemic.

Increased demand for bandwidth

One thing is certain — COVID-19 has led to a sharp increase in the online activities of people within Australia and around the world. According to a report from Limelight Networks (based on responses from 5000 consumers around the world), global consumers are now engaging with the medium of online video for an average of four hours and three minutes per day. The ‘How Video is Changing the World’ report highlights the new ways online video supports daily activities during and after the pandemic.

With many traditional sports leagues placed on hold due to social distancing restrictions, nearly one-third (31%) of global consumers had their first e-sports experience during the pandemic. With other live events cancelled, almost half (44%) of respondents attended their first virtual concert. Exercising is also going virtual, with many athletic facilities closed. In fact, 31% have participated in an online fitness class and another 24% plan to do so within the next six months.

Remote work and professional development have also become reliant on online video. As the pandemic has forced many people to work remotely, 79% agree that online video equips them to maintain daily activities. One-third (33%) are working from home for the first time and say online video helps them stay connected to colleagues (24%) and work more efficiently (36%). More than half (58%) have or plan to use online video for professional development or to learn a new skill. Most people (83%) believe video-based learning will continue in the post-COVID world.

Evidently, internet connectivity and better data transmission has become essential for millions of people around the world, as it is allowing work to continue without the need to go into the physical workplace. Despite the fact that most office workers have had the capacity to work from home since before the pandemic arrived, 5G can provide a far better experience. It improves connectivity for virtual meetings and possesses higher network capacities, making it an important tool in simply keeping up with new traffic demands.

“The pandemic has pushed the bounds of online video. Applications such as remote collaboration, e-learning and telehealth have been widely available for some time now; but today, they’re essential to continuing life in quarantine,” said Mike Milligan, Senior Director of Product and Solution Marketing at Limelight Networks.

“Many people turned to online video to connect with others and maintain daily activities during the pandemic, but it won’t stop once quarantine is over. Our report emphasises that online video will remain an important part of our lives in the new normal.”

Networks strained by increased volume of phone calls

According to Telstra, social distancing has led to an increased demand on its network, and the company expects this to continue. On 24 March, information on Telstra’s website stated that “overall mobile call volumes on certain routes and geographies are up by more than 50%. Specific numbers to government call centres are experiencing three times the call volumes compared to last week, and over 20 times the normal call volume. As a result, we’re seeing congestion impacting a small proportion (3–4%) of calls on our mobile network, with most of the congestion being driven by the high number of calls to government 13 and 1800 numbers.” With Victoria heading back into lockdown at the time of writing, the telco has also offered to provide its customers with additional data to help see them through this quarantine period.

Given that COVID-19 appears to be sticking around for a while yet, it would seem likely that the world will rely on improved connectivity and demand for faster, better networks will continue into the future. As governments invest to avoid a major economic recession, it is logical that many will move to fund 5G networks and ensure more coverage so that citizens, businesses and government bodies can remain better connected to one another.

Image credit: © drop

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