COVID-19 Challenges faced by Telcos and Impact on the Telecom Sector
by Raj Vignesh, Digital Marketing Lead, Megron Tech, Swindon, United Kingdom
(edited by Alan J Weissberger)
The emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought a series of “black swan” events to the entire telecom industry. People and businesses are shifting to digital means to manage their work loads, which has led to an unexpected surge in fixed AND mobile network traffic and access demands. TELECOM NETWORK OPERATORS HAVE HAD TO address this UNPRECEDENTED situation to fulfill the INCREASED networking REQUIREMENTS of their customers.
We discuss the strategies being crafted by telco leaders during this crisis; like increasing network bandwidth, leveraging digital technologies, use of 5G to support their customers and facilitating business continuity.
Further, we IDENTIFY opportunity areas for the telecom operators/service providers that have emerged in the wake of this coronavirus pandemic. Customer complaints raised during the lockdown due to poor mobile network signal reception and slow internet speeds are important concerns that the service providers need to CAREFULLY EXAMINE AND REVIEW.
IN RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC, TELCOS are building customized service offerings for their customers. THEIR AIM IS TO enable seamless interaction WITH USERS and to move forward with their business processes WHILE ALSO REALIZING a positive return on their investments.
Disruption in telecom industry due to the rise in COVID-19
The COVID-19 wave has smashed every industry. The telecommunications industry has been largely disrupted, as it is the core of communications required for medical, government and private sector business functions to operate seamlessly.
For example, reliable, high-speed Internet access is key to ensuring that hospitals and medical institutions have access to global information networks and resources necessary to fight the virus. Broadband connectivity is also now absolutely crucial for educational institutions and businesses to continue to provide essential services. The unprecedented global health emergency is taxing networks and platforms to the limit, with some operators and platforms reporting demand spikes as high as 800%.
The sudden disruption of normal business operations caused by the coronavirus has forced companies to drive their businesses remotely. That shift has spiked the demand for better network connectivity and improved internet coverage, especially in remote or rural areas.
As a result, the telecom industry (wireline and wireless) is trying to deliver better Internet infrastructure to their customers.
What are the key areas being impacted by this deadly outbreak?
The coronavirus pandemic has brought in some dramatic changes into the world, with network connectivity acting as a key for business continuity. How COVID-19 has impacted the telecoms industry is discussed below:
Ensuring resilient connectivity 24/7: Wireless Telecom operators are allocating spectrum resources to provide round the clock Internet connections to mobile subscribers. Due to increased data traffic, Internet download speeds have dropped, making the quality of video streaming poor.
Cloud computing increases amidst the lockdown: As businesses are proceeding with their work remotely, demand for video conferencing services and SaaS applications is continuously rising. Businesses are keen to adopt this new cloud-based model of working as they realize increased productivity with less investment in office space. Therefore, companies gain business benefits over the long-term.
Payments with pin and chip are the new normal: Following the social distancing norm, people nowadays prefer to do payments digitally i.e. via UPI apps, credit/debit cards or Internet banking. Due to COVID-19, the rise in digital payments is expected to reach 67% as per research conducted by Bain & Company.
Security to combat vulnerabilities: Cloud resources are accessed online and ease in restrictions is increasing the risk of cyber attacks. Cyber security engineers need to act on developing strategies to strengthen remote connectivity with proper authorization procedures. Mobile customer transactions need enhanced security with mobile-intelligence based approaches to prevent fraudulent transactions.
How are telcos responding to this critical situation?
Increase in network transport capacity – The COVID-19 lockdown weariness brought in demands for mobile broadband as most of the people are forced to stay home. Many telcos have eased their 3G/4G/5G network speed to facilitate users with proper Internet connections to stay connected with their loved ones, or can work remotely without any disruption while having business meetings with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders of the company.
Enhancement in 5G technology – This is the right time for mobile network operators (MNOs) to build and deploy 5G networks to wide geographical area including towns and villages. Many have done so already using 3GPP Release 15 “5G New Radio” for the Data plane along with a LTE core network (this is known as “5G Non Stand Alone” or “5G NSA”).
Comprehend each customer segment’s value and tailor solutions accordingly – Telcos are partnering with technology companies to understand customer behavior using technologies like AI/ML and data analytics. With deeper insights gained (e.g. geographies, customer interests, demographics, etc), telcos are adjusting their service offerings to customer segments to satisfy their demands in the current and post-COVID-world.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched its Keep Americans Connected initiative to help ensure that Americans don’t lose critical telecommunications services they depend on. Broadband wireline and wireless service providers that have signed the pledge have agreed not to terminate service if a customer can’t afford to pay bills due to the pandemic, to waive late fees resulting from economic hardship, and to expand the availability of their Wi-Fi hotspots. The FCC has also made additional wireless spectrum available to providers, warned people of COVID-19 related scams, and is expanding robocall protections for hospitals.
Selected U.S. and UK telco initiatives to help customers:
Verizon has been assisting its client base to transition from teleworking to remote working capabilities, with a pledge to not overcharge them in this crisis. Starting July 1st, customers who signed up for the Pledge to maintain their wireless service will automatically be enrolled in the company’s Stay Connected repayment program to provide options to stay connected.
AT&T suspended data caps for broadband customers to support the employees forced to do work from home during pandemic. Moreover, internet data is being offered to limited-income households at $10/month and businesses with 50% rebate on the current AT&T World Connect Advantage package.
T-Mobile has teams working 24/7 to ensure it continues to perform for all its customers, even under times of anticipated heavier traffic due to the pandemic lockdowns. Customers can make appointments through the store locator page on T-Mobile.com for curbside fulfilment on device and accessory orders.
Vodafone has increased network capacity to deal with new spikes in Internet traffic which it says has increased 50% since lockdowns were put in place. Customers accessing government-supported healthcare websites and educational resources will be able to do so without worry about data consumption charges.
Virgin Media’s postpaid customers have been offered unlimited minutes to landlines and other mobile numbers, as well as a 10 GB data boost for the month at no extra cost. For broadband, any data caps on legacy products will be lifted.
Comcast* subscribers interacted with customer service digitally via Xfinity Assistant, which is Comcast’s cross-channel, virtual customer service tool. Xfinity Assistant answers customers’ questions around the clock without them needing to stop what they’re doing to call customer service reps. Comcast said Xfinity Assistant is helping its customers about 400,000 times every day, compared to before COVID-19 when it averaged about 60,000 interactions a day. Comcast said Xfinity Assistant was proof that customers want to use digital tools and applications.
* Comcast is one of the largest retail Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the U.S. via its Xfinity brand. Xfinity also offers pay TV and cellular service as a MVNO for Verizon. The company also offers business network services, including broadband Internet through Comcast Business.
Editor’s Note: Short-Term Commercial Initiatives by Network Operators (SOURCE: ITU-D):
Additional data: Many mobile network operators (MNOs) are offering to provide customers with additional data as businesses and schools across the world transition to working remotely, due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Going digital in terms of recharges, etc: Facilitate prepaid mobile recharges being made online rather through physical scratch cards etc to improve connectivity during any lockdowns.
Free access to online learning resources: In order to support distance learning and home-schooling during school closures, access to remote leaning opportunities and educational
platforms has been made available at no cost by a number of operators.
Facilitating mobile money transactions: Banks and telecommunications companies are encouraging consumers to avoid cash payment in favour of digital transactions to avoid the
spread of the coronavirus.
Increasing Broadband Speeds: Operators are upgrading Internet speeds – including transmission and backhaul capacity – to better accommodate the unprecedented number of people working and learning from home which has been up to a 70 percent in certain country markets.
Free access to health/government information: MNOs are providing free access to information contained in government and social welfare sites, as well as to websites containing health
information relevant to coronavirus crisis.
Providing other free services: MNOs have also commenced a variety of other initiatives for their customers, at no extra cost. These include free access to networks and waiving overcharge fees.
Other Opportunities for Telco Service Providers:
Resolution of customer queries through a virtualized support solution: Dealing with customers in this pandemic is becoming tricky and telecom operators are investing heavily to minimize customer churn in order to retain their customers. They are offering virtual support services to customers to keep them engaged and solve their issues more quickly.
Customer QoE measurement needs to be enhanced: Telecom operators need to assess QoE monitoring with network coverage and speed, voice failures, via enabling customer services team online without visiting the customer site. Cell tower monitoring is a critical activity that needs to be undertaken in order to measure network performance and deliver increased throughput, clear voice calls amid crisis.
Building partnerships with edge application providers for better Internet connectivity: Applications with low latency like gaming, video conferencing applications require computing to be placed at edge near the end-user to give better user experience with enhanced network connection. Telcos can collaborate with cloud application providers in order to meet the requirements of users working from home in this time of coronavirus outbreak.
Telcos are continuously adapting to the changes caused due to COVID-19 crisis. Being the sole distributor of Internet infrastructure to other industry verticals, telecom operators have made several amendments in their operations and offerings to serve their customers in a better way. Though the coronavirus pandemic brought in several challenges, initiatives taken by the telcos is surely going to retain their business partnerships and customers for the long-term. That should lead to an increase in telco revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter when life returns to normal.
10 thoughts on “COVID-19 Challenges faced by Telcos and Impact on the Telecom Sector”
Good analysis. In the United States, the 1,000 or so independent broadband providers were well prepared for the pandemic because of their deep roots in their communities. They had been helping schools and other local institutions for years.
Some examples include:
Etex, in East Texas, which had been developing programs to prevent the “summer slide” among what they term the digitally disadvantaged youth. This prepared them for the onslaught on online learners.
Similarly and like others, CTC in Minnesota supplied community hotspots to those not on their fiber broadband network
ITS Fiber in Florida has leveraged their underground fiber network and video conferencing services to reach out to the community in ways they hadn’t before and it is driving growth in the “Himalayas of South Florida.”
Finally, Patty Boyers explains the ways they are protecting both their staff and customer when doing new installs in a time of a pandemic
The average US internet speed has reached 94.6 Mbps during the pandemic, an analysis of 717,000 speed tests by WhistleOut shows. Wyoming led the way, with 52% more speed, followed by Alaska and Kentucky. Full Story: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/86-of-us-states-increased-internet-speeds-during-covid-19-lockdown/
This author has advertised AT&T Uverse 100 Mb/sec home Internet download speed, but due to residential gateway & WiFi overhead download speed is rarely above 50M Mb/sec. It’s achieved via 2 bonded VDSL twise pairs each transporting up to 50Mb/sec downstream
In this article, you have mentioned it is the right time to deploy 5G networks, but many telcos have postponed even the 5G spectrum allocation. What is your say about this?
Thanks for your comment Jeeva, which I will request the author of the article to reply to your query. Personally, I believe it is NOT the right time to deploy 5G networks, because the IMT2020.SPECS standard has not been completed and there are no standards for 5G Core network, network slicing, virtualization, security, etc. Finally, 3GPP Release 16 URLLC in the RAN is incomplete with no performance tests to validate 5G URLLC conformance to M.2410.
Hi Jeeva, that is a good question. At this time, the network consumption by users has really increased a lot. I agree some telecom regulators have postponed 5G spectrum auctions at this time, but some of them have identified its benefits and have accelerated 5G deployment. Some useful benefits at this time are 5G applications in hospitals, healthcare, and public safety.
Hope this answers your query.
Telcos have always paved the way for enhanced connectivity to communicate with our family, friends, and acquaintances. But, the current pandemic situation compelled them to rethink their strategies to fulfill customers demand and retain them for long-term. The points penned down in this blog post truly signifies the role of telecom operators in COVID-19 and how are they trying to connect the unconnected amid such a novel crisis. Really an informational article!!!
Such a very useful article on COVID-19 challenges faced by the telecoms. Very interesting to read the insight and analysis. I would like to thank the author for the efforts made in compiling and summarizing all the information in this awesome article.
“Nice Info” on COVID-19 challenges for telcos. I can refer IEEE Techblog readers to one of the best telecom and technology solutions services in Hyderabad, India. All the best.
Covid-19 has impacted the telecom industry and because of this many organizations are working remotely. This has led to the telecom equipment being outdated and obsolete. The only way is to recycle them or sell them to a telecom recycling company
Useful information on the telecom industry and how Covid-19 impacted the market for telecom services. I agree with the statement that “it’s the right time to deploy 5G networks”, which opens up many new doors. The industries most impacted by 5G will be gaming, security, sports, healthcare, media, transportation, and AI.
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