Clearly, we are living in uncertain times.

With new levels of personal and professional uncertainty creeping into our lives with the public health and financial impact of Covid-19, a new reality is only just beginning to emerge. With all of us being asked to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus, the very essence of what it means to remain connected with family, friends and colleagues is being redefined.

For many years the telecommunications industry has been grappling with the challenges of meeting ever increasing customer expectations against the need to continuously invest in technology and infrastructure to remain relevant and competitive in the market. Industry commentary is filled with dire predictions of financial hardship for operators and an ever-increasing hope that 5G will be the industry’s saviour. But is this really the predictable future that many would have us believe?

Today, I’d challenge everyone to reconsider their perceptions of the role and value of telecoms operators in society and business. As we’ve entered one of the most difficult periods in our lifetime, it has been the telecoms operators alongside healthcare, policing, utilities and other service providers that have enabled the majority of us to maintain some semblance of normality in our lives by giving us access to information and enabling contact with our loved ones and colleagues.

So, what does this all mean? It’s clearly Business UNusual with many of the major operators report up to a 50% increase in mobile and IP-based traffic. On the first day of the UK lockdown the networks rocked under the additional demands – within the week broadband providers had lifted caps on data usage, and operators like the BBC and Netflix removed HD as an option for downloading or live streaming. It’s increasingly becoming likely that current customer behaviours and consumption could become the new normal as Covid-19 forces us to adapt to new ways of working and living.  And we may not want to go back.

Already we are seeing telecoms operators and other organisations rapidly launch new solutions to help in diverse areas such as contact tracing, remote diagnosis and food distribution across the globe. Solutions such as these demonstrate that the industry is more than capable of innovating much more rapidly than conventional wisdom has previously dictated. The barriers to innovation (caution, corporate approvals, inertia) seem to have been removed. Whilst Covid-19 is undeniably the challenge of our generation, ironically it could also be the catalyst needed for operators to re-invent their businesses in response to a very different societal and economic environment.

Whilst the immediacy of the current crisis is paramount in everyone’s minds, we should not forget that many of the world’s greatest achievements have been born out of crisis. As the race accelerates to live and work digitally, now is the right time for the telecoms industry to innovate and adapt in ways that reduces its financial dependency on SIM cards and fibre. Who better to innovate in areas such as highly secure B2B collaboration, video on demand, workforce management and social engagement than organisations that already have significant experience of delivering highly resilient digital communication networks?

So even though we are all uncertain of the immediate future, it is also the time for optimism. For those of us in the industry willing to take the chance, there’s no better time to learn from our response to the unfolding public health crisis and to emerge with a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm for the transforming industry right now.

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