5 ways COVID-19 impacts networks today and tomorrow

On 24-09-2020
Reading time : 6 minutes

The pandemic has thrust numerous changes upon us: how we work, learn, shop, and socialize have all changed significantly. These shifts have relied on the performance and availability of domestic and international networks. While some of these new trends will continue post-crisis, it is difficult to predict quite what their future levels will be compared to during the COVID-19 lockdown. What is certain however is that networks will remain critical and need greater flexibility to support the quality of service these new habits will require.

Working from home

COVID-19 saw working from home (WFH) go maintream. According to Freeform Dynamics research, there was a 4.7x increase in the level of home working, often implemented in a matter of days. 84% of enterprises said although they offered home working before the pandemic, often their existing communications, collaboration and productivity tools could not scale to the level of home working required. To help, operators increased the capacity available to customers: by the end of March, there was a 700% increase in remotely connected workers on the Orange Business Services network, for instance.

With more network capacity, companies embraced scalable tools, with video calling particularly prominent. Use of Microsoft Teams grew by 894%, Zoom by 668%, and Cisco Webex by 491% in the first 30 days after local lockdowns began.

Now that we are all used to WFH, will it continue? Gartner surveyed 317 companies and found that 74% of companies intend allowing workers to continue working from home, while OKTA found 54% of workers prefer a work-life balance that mixes the office and home working. Companies and employees feel WFH can result in more work getting done: in the UK, Opinium found that 57% of workers said they were “significantly” or “somewhat” more productive at home than in the office. Just 15% said home working was less productive. It’s a trend that looks here to stay.

Online education

As with so many other things, education went home-based and parents became teachers. During the lockdown, schools in 191 countries were closed, impacting the education of 1.5 billion students and the work life of 63 million teachers. Many countries embraced online education. The situation shone a light on the digital divide that still exists in many countries. UNESCO estimated that around 826 million students do not have computers at home, and 706 million of them do not have internet connectivity. Some countries are affected worse than others, with almost 90% of students in sub-Saharan Africa either without computers or unable to access the internet. Even in developed economies, there is a risk of widening educational gaps between wealthy families and the underprivileged. 


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Some larger educational establishments are already saying they will continue remote education. For example Cambridge University has committed to holding all lectures online until summer 2021. The UK chief medical adviser Chris Whitty has said that children are more likely to be harmed by not returning to school than if they catch COVID-19, and that missing lessons “damages children in the long run.” Online education is likely to center around schools’ ability to offer remote classes to students, something that is not always possible given the lack of equipment and need for closer supervision of younger pupils. Higher education establishments are better-equipped to do this since they already had remote learning in place before COVID-19. In the longer term, online education is more likely to remain in higher education than for younger students, where the necessary equipment is lacking and often parents and pupils simply want to return to school.

Everything video

Streaming video boomed: Zoom meetings, House Party dance classes, Netflix box sets, Skype chats. Video conference apps saw explosive growth, with Cisco Webex reporting 324 million users in March, with major growth in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific.  

Streaming was one of the big success stories of the lockdown. Content consumed varied from music concerts to brands streaming events over Instagram and Twitch to keep engaged with their audiences. Netflix reported 15.8 million new subscribers by the end of April, more than double their expected uptake. UK regulator Ofcom reported people spending 40% of their time watching TV and online video services. Over half of survey respondents told Ofcom they plan to spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future as they did during lockdown. 


There was a rapid rise in telehealth as hospitals and doctors reduced the need for face-to-face encounters. In France, for example, telehealth application Doctolib experienced an increase in teleconsultations from 1,000 to 100,000 per day. Doctors available to patients on the platform grew from 3,500 pre-COVID-19 to over 31,000. Similarly, in the US, the Doctor on Demand app reported 50% growth in teleconsultations in March. Forrester expects the number of teleconsultations in the US to pass 1 billion by the end of 2020. 

Is telehealth here to stay as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis? It appears so. 54% of US patients and 70% of French patients say they intend to continue using teleconsultations. Again, it is reasonable to assume that the number of teleconsultations will drop off somewhat as the world emerges from COVID-19 and people seek a return to more normality. Still, with both patients and healthcare professionals having experienced the benefits and viability of teleconsultations, telehealth usage should remain higher than pre-COVID-19. 

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Sustainability-driven purchasing

Consumer attitudes shifted: out went brands that did not support employees or customers during the pandemic, and in came locally-produced goods from sustainable suppliers. According to Accenture, 68% of consumers said limiting food waste was their top priority, with 54% saying making more sustainable choices ranked top for them. A further 46% stated that shopping closer to home in local stores was their number one priority. 
The changing age of consumers has an impact too: nearly 50% of millennials say they prefer to buy from a company if their purchase supports a cause. Deloitte found that 37% of consumers have reduced their engagements with a company or stopped altogether because of its ethical behavior. 
Is sustainability-driven purchasing here to stay? It seems so, though there are economic constraints. The COVID-19 crisis hit many consumers financially, and general uncertainty tends to make people reduce their spending. So while there is more focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability when choosing brands to buy from, 54% of consumers still cite price as the most important issue. Nonetheless, 45% of consumers told EY that how they shop will change permanently after the COVID-19 crisis eases.

Networks more critical than ever

Traffic across networks has certainly been on the rise. According to the GSMA, in Spain, Telefónica reported a 35% data increase over its networks, 26% fixed network and 48% mobile. In France, Orange experienced a 40% traffic increase on its fixed network, while international data and voice traffic rose by 35%. This was a challenge that operators met and overcame as they upgraded networks in a very short timeframe. In just a couple of weeks Orange Wholesale International increased the network capacity supplied to our content provider customers by 45%.
If more people continue to work from home and home school their children in future, as well as continue to consume video in big numbers, network congestion could make 5G a more attractive proposition. 5G’s network slicing capabilities could enable providers to offer differentiated service levels based on demand, thereby letting providers deliver the best quality of service while optimizing costs.

The past few months have demonstrated that connectivity and its underlying infrastructures are more critical than ever for consumers, businesses and economies: enabling them to exist and prosper even in these challenging times. The acceleration towards digital in all aspects of society is a real opportunity for the telecommunications industry. Yet, operators’ services are being severely challenged by OTTs, often more cost-effective and better adapted to changing consumer use, including B2B to some extent. To stay in the race, the Telecommunications industry must adapt and innovate. 
From a government’s perspective, this crisis has highlighted how a resilient telecommunications industry, with sufficient capacity and resources even under unexpected stress, is a true matter of national sovereignty.

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