Although the installed capacity has made it possible to respond to the surge in demand for digital services in the face of Covid-19, the pace of investment must be maintained and the connectivity gap must be closed.
The quarantine imposed as a measure to reduce the risk of contagion by SARS-CoV-2 has brought with it an increased use of telephone networks and the Internet for residential use.
All over the world more than 64% of the population remains at home due to the pandemic, according to CDC surveys. This means that at least 3,680 million people have had to adapt to a new lifestyle, making their homes their center of work, study, entertainment and online shopping.
According to a study by Nokia Deepfield, the use of video conferencing applications during business hours increased 300% in the United States and 400% online video games. In social networks and messaging, it registered an increase of between 117% and 217%.
Right now, “fixed networks are being critical and their essential services to face this pandemic. We see how digital and telecommunications infrastructure is essential to face health emergencies, ”says Jorge Bravo, president of the Mexican Association for the Right to Information (Amedi).
In particular, in Mexico City the use of mobile data decreased by 15% from the beginning of March to date, while the consumption of data through home networks increased 11%, according to a report by Google.
Before the health emergency was declared, 27% of people worked remotely or occasionally remotely in the country’s large cities. In early May, this figure increased to 81%, which at this time of the most critical phase of the pandemic should reach more than 90%, says Ernesto Piedras, treasurer of the Institute of Telecommunications Law (IDET) and expert in telecommunications. “We take companies, schools and universities to homes, which are coping well with existing infrastructure.”
Although we will not return to 27%, we will not remain at a high rate of work and study remotely, estimates Piedras, who calculates that it could stay in a range of 40 to 45%. In this sense, he believes, the point in favor of the coronavirus has been digitization in many areas.
In the last 12 years, networks have had heavy investments, which is why they have supported traffic well. Ernesto Piedras estimates that cable companies have invested between 15 and 20% to offer triple play (packaging of services and content), while mobile operators have promoted migration to 4G and better coverage.
In this way, it is the first time that humanity faces a global crisis in an environment of hyperconnectivity. 11 years ago, with H1N1 influenza, there were already mobile broadband and fiber optic services, but few users surfed on mobile platforms.
Currently, according to IDET data, there are 124 million mobile lines, of which 112 million are smartphones. Many of the prepaid users (representing 82%) use their mobile phone to connect.
The explosion in mobile data usage has been eight times in the past two and a half years. On average, mobile data usage is 3 MB.
If it were not for these technologies, all activities would stop and the economy would be even more affected. However, this pandemic also highlights the pre-existing digital divide.
“The authority yawned when we referred to telecommunications as a fundamental right because it was taken for granted, what it did not understand is that it must be universal, coverage must reach the entire population regardless of geographic difficulties; Only those of us who are connected have access to health, education and online work, but there are 30 million Mexicans who do not have access, ”emphasizes Bravo.
For his part, Piedras comments that we have always said that we are a country with an infrastructure deficit, which is related to the lack of coverage for the entire population and to the infrastructure that we have and do not use efficiently.
“Having the towers and fiber optics is important, but also the regulatory framework to reach all economic units and households in the country with devices, content, skill and coverage,” he says.
Telecommunications have helped society a lot to get ahead in this pandemic, however, it is necessary to accelerate public policies and generate facilities for the deployment of infrastructure that also occurs in all municipalities in the country.
The digital ecosystem must be accelerated. In Jorge Bravo’s opinion, “we are not going to want to stop doing many of the things that we do from home right now. We have already proven the advantage of not moving and making transactions without wasting time, having health services without training hours in a clinic, working remotely and even receiving entertainment on multiple platforms. Operators have already realized that they must create a demand for digital services. ”
In this time of health emergency, operators have had to restrict the deployment of infrastructure and halt investments to dedicate themselves to maintenance. “The objective is very clear: digitizers must work faster,” says Bravo.
For this reason, it is important to facilitate that the companies of the sector continue having the investment rhythm and the conditions to operate. In any crisis, the one who is most affected is the one with the least capabilities or resources. It is an opportunity to advance towards other generations of infrastructure and technology, which requires an exercise of articulation between government, industry, chambers and academia.