COVID-19 – a term that was rather unheard of until late 2019; in its wake, markets have crashed, economies disrupted, and millions of jobs are threatened every day. Its spread has left national economies and businesses counting the costs as governments struggle with recurring lockdown measures to tackle the spread of the virus. Despite the development of new vaccines, many are still wondering how the post-COVID-19 world would be.As per the Huawei GCI 2020 report, Asia Pacific is recovering more quickly from COVID-19, with over 30% of organizations already progressing to the new normal and 26% returning to growth. Latin America has the highest percentage of organizations in the economic slowdown stage, followed by EMEA - Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The recovery model is influenced by a complex mix of factors such as pandemic response, political stability, risk environment, supply chain logistics, and digital maturity.
Among all of these factors, I would especially highlight ‘Digital Maturity’ because it can be identified as a more stable factor, not directly hampered by any particular case, and has a long-term impact on the socio-economic sector.
2020 has witnessed measures being adopted to adapt to the ‘New Normal.’ High-speed broadband, Cloud computing, Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and cost optimization in technological operation are the prominent ones that come to mind. Please allow me to allude briefly to these points.
The new normal has increased the dependency on high-speed broadband. So far, it has been very impactful when considering the daily lives of most professionals and students. But it has an enormous opportunity to add value in other sectors. According to a recent report, bandwidth usage increased about 20-25% because people are using the internet for 6-8 hours a day amid the pandemic, the average of which was about 2 hours before the outbreak. Thus, we are going to hit 2.4 Tbps during busy hours soon.
Cloud computing comes next for the affordable automation of business processes and the provision of scalable infrastructure for the storage, processing, and delivery of information and services.
In the ongoing economic slowdown, there are fewer people at work. Thus, AI can facilitate decision-making and process automation with solutions such as chatbots to complement the limited human interaction capacity.IoT devices enable the automation of processes and services and deliver greater supply-chain resilience. For example, the pandemic led people to experience lockdown or movement restrictions, leading people to desire to solve regular tasks conveniently. That signifies the importance of IoT devices.
And finally, we can take a look at technologies that reduce the operational cost of telecom networks and data centers. These include AI, IoT, and solutions for sustainable energy, energy digitalization, and cooling. Such technologies can boost deployment viability and network build-out on the supply side and reduce the carbon footprint of the ICT industry on the environment.
In summary, Cloud computing shall continue to gain prominence on affordable automation of business processes and the provision of scalable infrastructure for the storage, processing, and delivery of information and services. AI shall also remain as another core tool for more efficient automated operations. Technologies like AI and IoT have the potential to boost deployment viability and make a more resilient and sustainable online infrastructure one step closer to reality.
Global leaders are now at the edges of their seats to begin a post-pandemic era. But only countries with already mature ICT infrastructures as per the aforementioned characteristics can take the courageous measures of relaxing strict protocols and resuming business, while others continue to minimize the damages.
As per the GCI report, we can specify countries into three clusters like starter, adopter, and frontrunner, based on the 40 different indicators like broadband, telecom networks, AI, IoT, policy, ICT investment, cloud, and many more of ICT infrastructure.
Starters are in the early stage of ICT infrastructure build-out. Their focus is on expanding connectivity coverage to give more people access to the digital economy. Adopters experience the largest GDP growth from investment in ICT infrastructure. They focus on increasing demand for high-speed connectivity to the cloud to facilitate industry digitalization and economic development. Frontrunners are mainly developed economies that focus on enhancing user experience. Their priorities have shifted to investing in 5G, big data, AI, and IoT to develop smarter and more innovative economies.
The use of cloud computing tripled over only 03 years in an adopter like Thailand. The country now has a promising plan, ‘Thailand 4.0’, that is driving the nation ahead with an indomitable momentum. Then there is Saudi Arabia, which has achieved 72% 4G coverage and 58% Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) coverage. Saudi Arabia spends near 2% of its GDP annually on ICT, resulting in an incredible internet sphere with average download speeds of 45 Mbps. The list can be extended much further, with the message remaining the same – more importance given on digital infrastructure means more strength of futuristic transformation and enhanced sustainability amid disasters like COVID-19.
Higher-ranking countries are already implementing better digital ecosystems where businesses and offices are being run remotely. This is the advantage of a mature digital infrastructure – the frontrunners’ ability to minimize the impact of the pandemic by 50% more than the adopters.
Bangladesh, while still remaining as a starter, has been making visible progress. It has proved itself as ‘Top Movers’ in 2019. And in the last six years, it has continuously uplifted its position. At this juncture, we must applaud our policy think-tanks and our carriers for the recent expansion. Through the April 2021 auctions, our carriers have collectively increased their spectrum holdings by 26.3%. This timely injection of capacity will help the whole economy to re-energize with better quality and capacity for the growing needs.
More than 95% of the internet usage in Bangladesh is done through the mobile network. With more people joining mobile broadband and existing users, businesses becoming more data-savvy – the demands will continue to grow. With their renewed investment in spectrum and 4G network, the telecom industry has pledged its support to fuel this growth. Now, the ICT arena needs policy guidance to enhance 4G penetration by lowering the entry barrier for subscribers in the lower echelons of affordability. As more citizens access mobile broadband – their individual growth and economic potentials will increase in unison. Connectivity is the first step to introduce them to the potentials of open ecosystems such as Cloud, IoT, and AI.
Though there is a long way to travel, the country is definitely in the right direction regarding ICT-based infrastructural development. Positive growth in the four key technology enablers (Broadband, Cloud, AI, and IoT) is evident, but whether it is sufficient in contrast with the rest of the world could have varying opinions from experts. Bangladesh’s performance in the 40 core indicators under Supply, Demand, Experience, and Potential categories has either been near or below average for the year 2020. This, evaluated separately, might seem despairing to some. But we have to remember that it is a somewhat uneven race, where many nations already kicked off from advantage points.
The government has dedicated its undivided attention and effort towards digital transformation across sectors. 4G internet connectivity has expanded rapidly since it was first launched a few years ago. The number of mobile internet users and their usage has been increasing at a meteoric pace. Now, Bangladesh is looking to commence the transition to 5G connectivity. While the government provides commendable support to ICT-based startups and encourages innovative ideas, the private sector embraces digital transformation at an encouraging pace.
Continued investment in ICT infrastructure, better integration of advanced technologies in broadband connection, familiarizing cloud techs in more and more operations, utilizing the advantages of AI for maximum convenience of personal and professional needs can be underlined where Bangladesh can set its focal point on it. It is through such area-specific developments that Bangladesh can dream of achieving its desired national milestones ahead. And Huawei will be there for Bangladesh to make its dream true.
(The writer is Director, Marketing, Huawei Technologies Bangladesh Limited)