Two months ago, it felt nearly profound to say we were living through unprecedented times as the enormity of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic became clearer. Today, it feels like a trite understatement.

Around the world, the first order of business has been to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in an effort to support the health of national populations and healthcare systems. The strategy has included quarantines, stay at home orders and shutting down (most) economic activity to an extent that no sector of society or the economy will remain un-impacted.

The impact on mobile and telecoms businesses (in the near- and long-term) will be discussed and analysed for months, if not years to come. Personally, my favourite coverage includes the impact tracking done by Mobile World Live along with the analyses my team has put together looking at diverse markets and topics, including:

Supply and demand dynamics will, doubtless, conspire to hold back 5G adoption in the near-term. And, where an economic downturn impacts small businesses disproportionately, the impact on IoT and enterprise wireless could be profound. Long-term, however, the impacts are a broad set of unknowns. Will post-lockdown pent-up demand drive a wave of 5G adoption? Will several months of Netflix bingeing and online gaming drive greater usage in the long-term? Will working from home (and the associated increase in home broadband usage) become the new normal? Will the April Fools joke of Disney buying F1 become a reality as live sporting events struggle under the burden of social distancing? Or will social distancing give AR and VR the boost they need to be successful?

One thing that is for certain? In the here and now, mobile operators are leveraging their networks, services, and businesses to support people and societies struggling against the pandemic. You see this in the news as operators (and regulators) race to put new spectrum assets to use, work to spin-up proximity tracking tools and promise to keep people connected.

As an analyst, I find these anecdotes compelling, but of limited value. By definition, anecdotes only tell part of the story. That’s why, when pulled into an effort to survey operators about their efforts, I jumped at the chance. Anecdotes are one thing. Getting input on the breadth of activities from a significant share of the world’s mobile operators? That’s something you can draw conclusions from (see chart, below, click to enlarge).

Of course, there is an upside to anecdotes. Selecting the anecdotes you highlight allows you to craft the story you want to tell, the surprising sort of story that grabs attention. Surveys, on the other hand, often confirm what we already know. Like the fact the primary efforts from operators revolve around educating the public, ramping capacity where needed, and ensuring connectivity via zero-rating or other service schemes. Not too surprising, right? But when the survey asks sentiment questions, those which aren’t reflected by what we see in the news and press releases? That’s when things get fun. And that’s why we asked which efforts operators expect to benefit them going forward.

This doesn’t mean the results are any more surprising.

Expectations of long-term benefits from new data collaboration and analytics efforts are understandable as operators get pulled into proximity tracking efforts. Telemedicine, long before the promise of 5G remote surgery is realised, is a no-brainer during a global pandemic. And as network and service attacks spike, taking advantage of health concerns and increased network usage, anything operators can do to combat them should yield expertise and reputational benefits.

What’s more important here, however, is a reminder the Covid-19 pandemic will come to an end. Shops will re-open. People will go back to work. Societies will slowly go back to normal, whether or not an economic downturn proves lasting. And when this happens, the way we engage with communications service providers, and the way they engage with their customers, will not be the same.

Today, helping one another remain healthy and safe is of paramount importance. But a post-Covid world will provide opportunities for operators to execute on their strengths, if they can imagine what that world looks like and begin planning for it.

– Peter Jarich – head of GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.