The coronavirus pandemic has thrown up an unprecedented crisis for countries and businesses worldwide. Select industries are at the forefront of ensuring that companies continue to operate, and the global economy is not severely impacted. Telecommunications is one sector that needs to, and must, soldier on. Traditionally, while network service providers are familiar with the concept of being available 24×7 to prevent service disruptions, the need for networks to be always on and operate at higher-than-normal efficiency levels is significantly accentuated in the current scenario.
Today, more than ever, businesses and consumers have very high expectations that their networks will provide the bandwidth, reliability, stability and speed they need to continue operations as countries are going into lockdowns and an increasing number of people are working from home. The most critical task of network service providers during this crisis is to continue providing essential infrastructure, tools and support for first-responder networks, hospitals, government agencies, global supply chains and the news media. These organisations are categorised as “essential services” and are running round the clock to prepare and respond to the dynamic environment today. Apart from protecting their employees from the virus, dealing with critical equipment and supply shortages and adapting to inadequate healthcare capacity, network service providers worldwide are working non-stop to ensure that the one thing people do not have to worry about is their network.
Swift actions are critical to ensure service continuity for the essential workforce, keeping the lines of communication between medical experts and government agencies, doctors and patients, businesses and the public open. The performance and security of the network must be maintained even as providers work to increase capacity.
Service providers use technology and digital tools in their network operation centres to remotely monitor usage across the network and move quickly to add capacity, reroute communication paths, and make the necessary adjustments in heavy transmission sectors to optimise capacity and utilisation. While data centres and field technicians are trained to respond to, troubleshoot and repair issues impacting service delivery, they are now adapting to new procedures that help technicians work safely with an added protective measure to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus while on the job.
How are network service providers stepping up their role?
As the Covid-19 impact is felt across the world, ensuring capacity, quality and reliability for essential services on the front lines is a critical responsibility of network service providers. To this end, network service providers are taking the following steps:
- Prioritising first-responder networks to maintain continuity of service with dedicated bandwidth for communications
- Deploying assets such as mobile cell sites and devices to quarantine zones, airports, emergency operations centres and mobile coronavirus testing locations
- Expanding access to tele-health tools for healthcare workers such as video consultations for doctors and patients
- Setting up Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations to improve performance and communication between essential medical, government and non-profit agencies
- Working with schools, many that have gone online, with digital resources such as the Verizon Innovative Learning Connection website for teachers and students.
As network service providers plan and adapt to the changing environment, the pandemic is driving organisations of all types to ensure that their business continuity plans are in place. This includes prioritising critical infrastructure, supporting layers of network redundancy, ensuring security, both at the physical data centre and over the network, implementing technology to collect data for remote equipment monitoring, and equipping their workers and suppliers with the tools and devices necessary to keep the business running. Businesses can learn from this time of stress and uncertainty to draw up their roadmaps for future projects around automation, process innovation and digital transformation to ensure that they can confidently respond to large and small events in the future.
The technological innovations and capacity expansions in our global networks over the past decade have prepared communication networks and service providers to perform, adapt and lead in a pandemic. The technology, expertise, infrastructure and support that we often take for granted in our daily communications have given us real-time, virtual connections we all need during this time of isolation. Achieving the bandwidth, performance, security and reliability required in this crisis would have been an exponentially more significant challenge even 10 years ago.