Covid-19 : towards a global universal telecom service

To this day the epidemiological impact in the emerging countries is not yet known. There is no doubt that the introduction of containment measures in 39 countries of Africa (as of April, 14th) and of restrictions on movement in most others will already have a huge impact on companies. First lessons may be already drawn from Europe.

Teleworking as an answer to the sanitary crisis.

In France, nearly 10 million employees, representing nearly 30% of the active population, have been placed on a temporary unemployment scheme during the coronavirus lockdown. They are now benefiting from an extended indemnity program whereby their salaries are being paid by the state.

 The ITWP work-life study covering 5,000 respondents from 7 countries and 3 continents estimates that 42% of the employees surveyed were working from home now. 31% kept on going to their regular workplace.

Two pillars: Networks and digitalization of services

Telecommunication infrastructures in Europe and digital tools helped the majority of « white collars» keep on remaining active, 85% estimating that their work conditions were satisfactory. Among teleworkers, ¾ have discovered this work mode for the first time.

The factors enabling this shift are both:

  • the quality of telecommunications infrastructure
  • the digitalization of the economy.

Very high-speed infrastructure monetized by entertainment services has suddenly become the vital artery of a large part of the economy. This, therefore, validates a holistic view of the digitalized economy where it is highly important to access the most performing connectivity, in all circumstances and for all.

What impact of COVID 19 on the networks of emerging countries

For developing countries, we may address how the crisis unfolds in two ways.

For the part of the population whose activity is compatible with teleworking, this will first lead to an increasing demand for fiber and mobile high speed. All those who thought their plans expensive but accessible and who opted for inferior quality solutions are making trade–offs in favor of their connectivity. As a reminder, the cost of a fiber access in Africa varies between 25% and 300% of the annual GDP per capita. 

Fiber deployment will concern well-off neighborhoods niches of urban centers and business location areas. Mobile deployments and the potential technology leapfrogs will more broadly concern the city centers and most probably the major national roads/main roads (ex 4G coverage on Mauritania’s main roads). For this first deployment target, infrastructure may be financed by the operators thanks to an increase in demand generated by the new usages linked to the sanitary crisis. The funders will also be involved to speed up projects they were already part of.

COVID 19 crisis: what can we learn from?

What the coronavirus crisis has shown is that in a world of globalized exchanges, the new epidemic crises can no longer be strictly geographically confined. The containment and closed borders measures representing an exorbitant cost for the economies, it is essential to monitor the sanitary situation throughout the world.

Mobile telecommunications mobiles and digital services are thus an essential component of the sanitary crisis resolution.

They played, in Asia especially, a key role in identifying and tracking the patients, or potential contacts of the infected persons. They are also used for prevention as a source of information.

Mobile is also a fundamental tool of social distancing. Telemedicine is no longer only a way to treat isolated populations but is also becoming a protective measure for very exposed caregivers. More generally, telecommunications may physically secure all money and documents exchanges. Thus the mobile ID, mobile money, and e-government triptych, which was associated with development, is taking on a new health-related role with COVID 19.

One may think that international health funding allocated to services and applications, but also to infrastructure, will be enhanced.

Would mobile associated to minimum digital services of identification, of payment and exchanges, be becoming a global universal telecommunication service?



David Erlich

Consulting Director