The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has forced citizens to adapt to a new lifestyle. There is advocacy around these social changes — staying home, maintaining high standards of personal hygiene, and practising social distancing to remain safe. These changes are radically disruptive. But some of them could end up as somewhat more fundamental changes.
With the evolution of technology, we, as social beings, have pushed social distancing to become inversely proportionate to virtual proximity in these times. There is an ecosystem of telecom infrastructure, social media platforms, digital content and digital services that allow virtuality to fill the physicality void, and remain productive, with significantly mitigated continuity risks.
To achieve this though, at the least, you need a telecommunications infrastructure that connects all these dots. This allows you to do video conferencing, access content over the Internet, access your office software and servers, as many applications and content have moved to the cloud. All the content you require to work from anywhere is possible because of this virtual infrastructure. WiFi is not as pervasive in India due to a low fixed-line penetration, and, therefore, wireless – especially technologies such as 4G – provide you access and connectivity to deal with disruptions. It may not be true in the hinterland, but, at least in the big cities, this is a very powerful medium to ensure that there is the least amount of disruption and productivity loss in your personal and professional lives.
Of course, there are businesses such as aviation, hospitality and travel that get impacted immediately. But other than the demand spikes for online grocery and pharmacies, if there is one sector that is delineated from a demand perspective in the market, it is telecom. The industry, especially wireless telecommunications, is one that seems insulated from this crisis from a business perspective. Fixed lines need a lot of physicality, because you may need a person to fix things if they go wrong. The bulk of wireless issues, on the other hand, are sorted out virtually with built-in redundancies.
The demand for telecommunications and connectivity in a crisis such as the coronavirus has a reasonable probability of going up. Without, in any way, undermining the tragedy that the disease represents, and the costs the nation is incurring, the moment will benefit a sector which is so plagued by financial losses, sustainability issues and the Adjusted Gross Revenue verdict, which entails telecom companies to pay huge dues.
Millions forced to stay at home amid the outbreak have driven up the demand for online games and streaming services in China. India may be no different, and there is a high probability of data consumption going up, despite our wireless networks being more disposed in commercial districts rather than homes.
But the benefits go beyond the merely commercial. Telecom helps people combat the disease at a social level through enhanced awareness. All the communication on social media is, virtually, real-time, which is possible only because of this telecom infrastructure. It’s precisely because of this infrastructure that the prime minister could bring all South Asian leaders on a virtual platform to discuss the crisis.
Even for those who are not connected to the Internet, voice connectivity remains relevant. It may not be real-time, but it still helps them operate with a slight lag. The telecom sector is playing the role of a catalyst — for those who are suffering, for those who are not, for people who are anxious to get information, for those who are experts. It is providing a lot of connect and information flow. If there was no virtual connectivity providing real-time information, citizens would suffer from anxiety and fear. It also helps deal with boredom. For millions who are not used to staying at home, it makes the confinement a lot easier. And businesses benefit the most, for 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 manage the sudden arrival of the coronavirus crisis. Depending upon the longevity of this problem, it could actually lead to transformational change in how businesses function and people lead their lives. It is difficult to ascertain, at the moment, the extent to which this will happen. But there might be a reasonable possibility of arguments in favour of working from home gaining traction, beyond this crisis. We had never experimented with the idea at this scale, and we were not sure of the experience we and our employers would have with it. Now that we are practising it at this scale, and if we can sustain a good experience, there is no reason why work from home won’t be a viable option in the future.
It can also bring social change within the home. There is a usual division of labour at home between men and women. With the virtualisation, the time spent with family will go up, and the chores that you deal with also get more gender-balanced. That equality is more pronounced in the western world than in our region, but this could be one likely result of the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.
And, quite simply, achieving some sort of permanency in areas like personal hygiene— the advocacy for which telecom sector helps magnify — will do good to society and mitigate future virus attacks.