The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a fundamental challenge on a global scale. Our socioeconomic systems have been strained as a result, forcing entire societies to reexamine social practices and production systems that have often been in place for decades, if not centuries. These changes have caused a global economic recession worse than the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Fortunately, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts recovery to begin in 2021.
In a new paper by Telecom Advisory Services, we explore the impact of technology – specifically Wi-Fi® – under pandemic conditions. Additionally, in another study we have demonstrated that digital technology can mitigate the socioeconomic disruption presented by COVID-19, and that countries with highly developed digital infrastructures can reduce the pandemic’s long-term, negative economic impact by more than half.
While the social and economic effects of the pandemic have been analyzed in detail, Wi-Fi’s impact on the economy during this time of crisis has not been studied. However, many regions have reported huge jumps in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi-based applications use as people worldwide move toward working and learning from home.
According to ASSIA, Wi-Fi activity increased and stabilized at approximately 82 percent higher than in pre-pandemic conditions. Users are doing more on Wi-Fi than ever before, and Wi-Fi has been shown to fulfill a critical contribution in several areas, including:
- User benefits for accessing free Wi-Fi networks in public locations, including Wi-Fi buses
- Consumer savings in cellular service when using home internet
- Broadband coverage expansion in rural and isolated areas
- Enterprise savings in using Wi-Fi for IoT, AR/VR, and other innovative applications
Wi-Fi is one of the most pervasive telecommunications technologies used today and represents a critical component of every country’s digital infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, we have found that Wi-Fi networks are a significant contributor to national resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In approaching our analysis, Telecom Advisory Services wanted to better understand how Wi-Fi has contributed to economies around the world and demonstrate its significance under pandemic conditions. My team and I collected empirical evidence that underlines the value of Wi-Fi when it comes to mitigating the negative effects of pandemics, and we examined in detail how Wi-Fi has helped improve the socioeconomic resilience of countries around the globe. We found that Wi-Fi has been crucial in three specific use cases that have become critical in a time of social distancing measures: distance learning, telecommuting, and telepresence.
Distance learning: Even when students are physically in school, many studies have linked better educational outcomes to those with computer and internet access. Conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic proved that Wi-Fi is critical to enabling remote learning, and in many cases becomes the only link existing between the student and the teacher.
Telecommuting: Wi-Fi is the key technology enabling telecommuting, and enterprises have supported enabling employees to work from home where possible—at times by purchasing upgraded equipment or better internet plans. Traffic measurement statistics show that now an average day’s Wi-Fi traffic is similar to pre-pandemic holiday season traffic.
Telepresence: In general, telepresence has enabled people to stay safely at home but still have worldly experiences. Telemedicine and virtual events have drastically increased, but an area of focus we found very important is in elderly care. Delivery of virtual reality platforms and applications has helped mitigate the isolation of the elderly. Institutions introducing a blend of entertainment and therapy through VR can help memory care patients improve attention span and give better quality of life to seniors feeling isolated during stay-at-home orders.
Overall, Telecom Advisory Services has found that the global pandemic highlights Wi-Fi’s role as a critical component of every country’s digital infrastructure, making Wi-Fi networks a key factor in any nation’s efforts to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and potentially other large-scale crises.
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