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Opinion

At Covid-19 times, telecommunications emerge as a savior – analysis

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Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has forced citizens to adapt to a new lifestyle. There is an incidence around these social changes, staying at home, maintaining high standards of personal hygiene and practicing social distancing to stay safe. These changes are radically disruptive. But some of them could end up being somewhat more fundamental changes.

With the evolution of technology, we, as social beings, have pushed social distancing to be inversely proportional to virtual proximity in these times. There is an ecosystem of telecommunications infrastructure, social media platforms, digital content and digital services that allow virtuality to fill the physical gap and remain productive, with significantly mitigated risks of continuity.

However, to achieve this, at least, you need a telecommunications infrastructure that connects all these points. This enables you to video conference, access content over the Internet, access your office software and servers, as many applications and content have been moved to the cloud. All the content you need to work from anywhere is possible thanks to this virtual infrastructure. WiFi is not as pervasive in India due to low fixed line penetration and therefore wireless technology, especially technologies like 4G, provides you access and connectivity to deal with outages. It may not be true indoors, but, at least in big cities, this is a very powerful means of ensuring that there is the least amount of disruption and loss of productivity in your personal and professional life.

Of course, there are businesses like aviation, hospitality, and travel that are affected immediately. But apart from the spikes in demand for groceries and online pharmacies, if there is one sector that is delineated from the perspective of market demand, it is telecommunications. The industry, especially wireless telecommunications, seems to be isolated from this crisis from a business perspective. Landlines need a lot of physicality, because you may need a person to fix things if they go wrong. Most wireless problems, on the other hand, are virtually solved with built-in redundancies.

The demand for telecommunications and connectivity in a crisis such as the coronavirus has a reasonable probability of increasing. Without, in any way, undermining the tragedy of the disease and the costs the nation incurs, the moment will benefit a sector that is so plagued with financial losses, sustainability problems and the Adjusted Gross Income verdict, which implies that telecommunication companies pay huge fees

Millions forced to stay home amid the outbreak have increased demand for online games and streaming services in China. India may be no different, and there is a high probability that data consumption will increase, despite the fact that our wireless networks are more arranged in business districts than in homes.

But the benefits go beyond the merely commercial. Telecom helps people fight disease on a social level through increased awareness. All communication on social networks is practically in real time, which is possible only due to this telecommunications infrastructure. Precisely because of this infrastructure, the Prime Minister was able to bring all the leaders of South Asia to a virtual platform to discuss the crisis.

Even for those who are not connected to the Internet, voice connectivity is still relevant. It may not be in real time, but it still helps them operate with a slight delay. The telecommunications sector is playing the role of a catalyst: for those who suffer, for those who are not, for those who are eager to obtain information, for those who are experts. It provides a lot of connection and information flow. If there were no virtual connectivity to provide real-time information, citizens would suffer anxiety and fear. It also helps to deal with boredom. For millions of people who are not used to staying at home, it makes the confinement easier. And companies benefit the most as it helps them continue their operations, both domestically and internationally, even when physical interactions are not possible.

What we are witnessing is a temporary adjustment to handle the sudden arrival of the coronavirus crisis. Depending on the longevity of this problem, it could actually lead to transformative change in the way companies and people operate their lives. It is difficult to determine, at this time, to what extent this will happen. But there could be a reasonable chance of arguments in favor of working from home to gain traction, beyond this crisis. We had never experimented with the idea on this scale, and we weren’t sure what experience we and our employers would have with it. Now that we are practicing it on this scale, and if we can maintain a good experience, there is no reason why working from home is not a viable option in the future.

It can also bring social changes within the home. There is a usual division of work in the home between men and women. With virtualization, the time you spend with family will increase, and the tasks you face are also more gender balanced. That equality is more pronounced in the western world than in our region, but this could be a probable result of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

And, simply, achieving some kind of permanence in areas such as personal hygiene (defending what the telecommunications sector helps to expand) will be beneficial to society and mitigate future virus attacks.

Sanjay Kapoor is former CEO, Bharti Airtel for India and South Asia, and former president, Micromax

The opinions expressed are personal.

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