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Post written by:

Vincent Bonneau

IDATE Lab. Business Unit Director

Carole Manero

Wireless Services practice leader

Can these changes in usage be sustainable without a complementary business model for scaling up? Several activities appear capable of capitalising on the surge in digital service consumption levels and/or of moving past a plateau in terms of use, while supplementing corresponding physical activities. 

The health crisis is thus providing an opportunity to have little used innovations become large-scale solutions, which remains the key challenge for any digital technology (DigiWorld Summit 2019), while still not taking hold as the sole application used. What changes in user habits should we expect to see?   

First, the coronavirus crisis could make teleconsultations a lasting practice, after their slow and oft-delayed (usually due to severe amounts of red tape) implementation kept adoption rates down to a mere 1% of medical consults in France before the crisis – a figure that rose to 11% by the end of March, representing close to ½ million consultations (source: Ameli1). Worth noting is that the business model here is quite simple (replicating the one for physical consults) and that the number of doctor’s visits this represents is high, but could be much higher if all of the right conditions were in place.  

Teleworking too could become more commonplace. It was already been widely used, but often on an only temporary basis outside unusual circumstances, such as the recent massive strikes in France by workers protesting retirement reforms. Employees themselves are largely in favour of it (despite the newfound challenges it brings for some of having to manage their children at the same time) but not all are properly equipped to do so. Still, the benefits in terms of time management are clear, in addition to the benefits of no longer having to commute (which has a positive knock-on effect on pollution).  Here too, contrary to many other services, the business model is not yet an issue, and the costs are ultimately borne by the employee. Some complaints were already being voiced pre-crisis (source: Glassdoor2) which could challenge employers’ good intentions. 

Looking at things on a broader scale, regardless of the application, we are seeing an accelerated rate of adoption for digital services during the crisis, as the confinement has made them the only possible solutions for a great many activities. This includes elderly people using videos chats for the very first time, and small and medium businesses adopting collaboration tools that were already been widely used in large corporations. But this increased adoption cannot just happen naturally across the board, as some will need to make a bigger push on their digital transition, investing more heavily in networks, equipment and training.   

If the Internet continues to withstand the surge, the change in the population’s distribution from pre-confinement days has had an impact on networks outside major city centres which have much lower capacity, and all SVoD services have been asked to diminish the quality of their streams3 for the nonce. The root cause of this forced network throttling are delays in superfast network rollouts across Europe where both fibre and 5G deployment continues to lag, despite national rollout schemes. 

New gen network rollouts in Europe have been largely confined to major cities. Only several hundred 5G cell sites are currently operational, compared to tens of thousands in Asia. By the same token, 5G services are only available in some ten countries in Europe, which do not include France. The reason: the 5G frequency auctions that were due to take place in Metropolitan France in April – which was already somewhat behind its neighbours – were forced to be put on hold. Regulator Arcep has thus postponed them. Austria, Spain, Greece and Portugal have also elected to postpone their auctions, being entirely transparent with the European Commission which is seeing the targets for its 5G Action Plan undermined. European operators are also scaling back their work: in France, the installation of masts for conducting 5G trials came to a grinding halt in March. And 1&1Drillish announced that Covid-19 had forced it to postpone its 5G service launch in Germany, with other delayed launches expected to follow. Whatever the situation may be, the Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to confirm 5G use cases for health: Chinese hospitals, for instance, are now using 5G-powered robots to assist medical staff with patients.  

https://www.ameli.fr/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/20200331_-CP_Teleconsultations_Covid_19.pdf
2 https://www.glassdoor.fr/blog/teletravail-covid19-etude/
3 http://www.rfi.fr/en/science-and-technology/20200320-french-telecoms-struggle-user-data-surge-netflix-cuts-quality-europe-coronavirus-lockdown-work-from-home