(June 19): Today we face one of the largest global challenges of our generation. The impact of Covid-19 is undeniable and its test of our perseverance, unmatched. We must all work together to ensure the personal and financial safety of everyone while also minimising global economic damage.
According to recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistics on 2020 Global GDP growth outlook, world economic growth is expected to be negative for the remainder of 2020, and while many countries have yet to flatten the curve, several in Asia and Europe have begun to relax restrictions to revive their economies.
Globally, governments have announced stimulus packages to address the standstill resulting from forced shutdowns, employment furloughs, and social distancing orders. Countries like China and Korea, where the first wave impact has been more or less addressed, have announced new business continuity plans while closely monitoring for any new waves of Covid-19 cases.
During the pandemic, more organisations are opting to work from home, more students are learning remotely, and more people are shopping online and relying on delivery services to minimise travel and outdoor activity. In a recent article by Analysys Mason Research, travel restrictions and work from home options actually accelerated digital transformation, putting forward new requirements for telecom operators to upgrade their services to meet new capacity demands.
In March, Asean economic ministers resolved to use technologies and digital trade to enable businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), to continue operations amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, and according to a brief recently released by the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA), the adoption of the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and robotics — gives manufacturing firms a better chance of rapidly increasing production when the economy recovers.
Given the foundational role ICT infrastructure has played in helping manage the current pandemic, governments are even more aware of the productivity and socioeconomic benefits brought forth by ubiquitous broadband communication and cloud services. This is further substantiated with the recent Eleven Regulatory recommendations made by GSMA that are aimed to strengthen connectivity during the Covid-19 crisis.
Having worked together with the Ministry of Health in Malaysia, my thoughts are that digital solutions have provided critical connectivity between global and local healthcare experts and frontline medical professionals, allowing them to conduct online consultations for more effective diagnosis and treatment with faster identification and less spread of infection.
In the Philippines, more than 50 hospitals were analysed to deliver service assurance using AI-based forecast tools to anticipate traffic growth, prevent network congestion due to increased traffic and ensure sufficient capacity to sustain voice and data communication services. Leveraging innovative solutions, telecom operators have been able to increase the capacity of the entire National Capital Region (NCR) area by 10% in less than a week.
Over the next few months, digital healthcare infrastructure will be paramount in preparing for the next wave of infection, with the ability to monitor patients remotely, isolate infection prone areas with robots, and protect frontline healthcare workers with remote treatment and consultation. Vertical industry transformation will accelerate digitalisation, which in turn will require ICT infrastructure development to cater to high throughput, low latency, security, and fast service provisioning scenarios simultaneously.
The role of digital video for effective communication publicly and privately is now undeniable, powering everything from social media and remote work to critical vertical industries including e-education, telemedicine, manufacturing and more. Efficient and flexible high definition video solutions have already become the new norm and a critical component to business and economic continuity, and this will continue post-pandemic.
While, many telecom operators have already stepped up in boosting critical capacity and coverage, it is now abundantly clear that the powerful convergence of broadband and 5G, cloud, IoT, and AI is a common fundamental requirement for larger digital transformation, and we need to accelerate its adoption for future emergency readiness and sustainable economic growth.
Looking ahead, the IMF anticipates strong growth in 2021, driving governments and regulators to act quickly to overcome the immediate economic impact in 2020. Digital connectivity is key to restart the economy with telecom services proven to be critical in all aspects of life. Preparing for the new normal has increased the demand for faster digital transformation, and with it, the urgency for new telecom policies with government and ecosystem support. Underpinned by 5G, Cloud, IoT and AI, ecosystem collaboration between governments, industries, enterprises and service providers is the catalyst for the digital transformation that will reignite the economy, and help secure everyone’s personal and financial safety in the future.
Jeffrey Liu is president of Huawei Asia Pacific