The impact that COVID-19 has had on the world cannot be understated. While it was originally downplayed as little more than a variant of the flu, it quickly shut down entire nations. The speed of the economic collapse due to the virus was unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Confirmed COVID-19 cases across the world exceed 19 million at the time of writing, and deaths have surpassed the 700,000 mark.
In the telecom world, people had different expectations for 2020. This year was supposed to be the year that 5G went mainstream. The fifth-generation tech standard for cellular networks is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together, with higher speeds, lower latency, increased availability and more reliability.
Global operators started launching 5G networks in early 2019, and many countries expected to see their nationwide 5G mobile networks up and running by now. But by the time that the Mobile World Congress (the world’s biggest mobile conference) was cancelled in February due to the pandemic, telecom professionals knew that the 5G rollout would be slowed.
Some of the world’s earliest adopters and pioneers of the 5G rollout are the United States and China. The telecom companies based in these countries are absolutely critical to the continued rollout of 5G in other countries across the world. Unfortunately, they are also among the countries most severely impacted by the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China and has infected more than 4.9 million people in the U.S.
Even though the coronavirus has slowed down the worldwide rollout of 5G, the technology is more critical now than ever thanks to the changes that the pandemic has caused. With the rapid growth of remote-work in order to comply with social distancing regulations, more people are using their home networks than ever before. From work to communicating with family to spending time with friends — 5G makes it all easier and smoother. The benefit of 5G to video conferencing alone is worth noting in the new normal. Despite the impact of the virus, one thing will always remain true: as the demand grows, so must the supply.
So while the virus has slowed down the rollout of 5G, it certainly hasn’t stopped it. In fact, on the network infrastructure side, some carriers have actually benefitted from the fact that the coronavirus is keeping people indoors.
“We have been able to continue to build during this time of COVID and even accelerate that build in certain markets,” said Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s vice president of network engineering.”
In particular, tower climbers have been able to work without interruption, and fiber layers have been able to speed up their pace thanks to relatively low traffic on city streets.
It remains to be seen how this pandemic affects 5G rollout long-term. While it has certainly had an impact, telecom analyst expect growth to pick up over the second half of 2020 as coronavirus lockdowns ease globally, 5G networks expand and more 5G devices become available.