For years it has been rightly pointed out that reliable and robust digital networks with sufficient reserve capacity, are an indispensable infrastructure prerequisite for digitalization and thus for the positive effects that digitalization has on society and the economy.
And literally overnight, with COVID-19, telecom networks have become the lifeline for social cohesion, for maintaining business activities, for entertainment and gaming, and for communication with family and friends. Suddenly, we are all aware of how important these networks are, and many are wondering what needs to be done to ensure that further investment is made in these networks, that their coverage is extended, and that new technologies and applications become available for customers.
Since the COVID-19 crisis arrived in our society, all of us are sitting in our houses or apartments and all family members are working, videoconferencing, learning, teleworking, playing, or entertaining ourselves at the same time. Such an unpreceded situation puts the stability and capacity of our networks under scrutiny. In Europe, after more than five weeks of lockdown, it has become clear that network operators have managed successfully to keep their networks stable while meeting the requests of many customers for more bandwidth.
As a regular visitor to Canada and global traveller, I know that Canadian telecom carriers are doing a great job because the quality of Canadian networks ranks in the global top league. But why are Canadian networks performing so well? Is there a miraculous recipe?
No miracles. Investing in networks is key to network performance, ubiquitous coverage and innovation. This boils down to the question of what the right conditions for investing are and whether or not policy makers and regulators are devising a long-term investment-friendly strategy. Such a strategy doesn’t fall from heaven, nor should it be subject to unexpected changes. Investors need certainty; uncertainty is toxic for a positive investment climate. Canada’s policy of facilities-based competition has, for a number of years, proven to be the best way to foster investment. This paradigm has proven its effectiveness globally in all western-style societal and economic systems as the best strategy to foster investment in infrastructure. Canada is well advised not to put this proven policy at risk.
My recommendations to governments, regulators and telecoms carriers, following the experience after more than five weeks of unprecedented tests to network systems, are summarized as follows:
- Clear your mind of the idea that the crisis will suddenly be over and that we will all return to our former world. The world after COVID-19 will be different than before! From the pressure of events, we are currently developing and practicing alternative forms of communication and cooperation, and many of these will remain, even after this episode of the crisis ends. Working from home will become the new norm for more people, while entertainment and shopping will move even more into the online realm.
- Against the background of the vital role of robust telecom networks in ensuring the continuity of the vital functions of the state, the economy and social cohesion, it is necessary to call for a predictable and investment-friendly policy. Investment in networks is the key for securing network capacity and innovation. With the COVID-19 experience, telecommunications networks established themselves permanently in the consciousness of all people as the digital backbone of society and as a system-critical element for all areas of life.
- The digitalization of all areas of society is currently experiencing the greatest push, political initiatives in the last 10 years have not been able to achieve.
- Each of us should now plan for individual and collective recovery, build a positive attitude against all odds and seize new opportunities. While we are in the depths of the crisis, it can sometimes be hard to maintain a positive attitude, particularly as the crisis’ length and severity cannot be predicted. Based on the unprecedented push in the digitalization we’re currently experiencing, the post-crisis societal, political and business environment will provide us with new opportunities. Let’s go to work!
About the author Dr. Georg Serentschy:
The professional career of Georg Serentschy spans a period of more than 40 years. It began in the field of nuclear physics, after which he devoted himself to industrial research and development in various industrial high-tech areas such as solar energy, aerospace and telecommunications. After his industrial career, he joined strategy consulting firm Arthur D. Little. The next step was to head the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in Austria (RTR-GmbH) for more than a decade. The culmination of this career phase was the position of Chairman of BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications). In 2014 he founded his own consulting company, where he is internationally active in the fields of regulation, competition, innovation, spectrum and cybersecurity as well as public policy.