We are living in unprecedented times. As a product marketer and sales executive, I experienced the impact of other infectious diseases and viruses in tech such as SARS, the Avian flu and H1N1. However, in 2020 we live in an always connected, social media driven, instant news cycle. Has connectivity, the very topic area that I cover as an analyst, helped or hurt the COVID-19 situation? Online news coverage of toilet paper and hand sanitizer hoarding probably hasn’t helped restore confidence or inspired rational shopping behavior. However, I believe that connectivity will be the COVID-19 “silver lining” that brings about needed change in workplace flexibility and business continuity for small and large business alike. I would like to talk about how I see this all playing out in the coming weeks and months, and in the long term.
Work from home as the new normal
The tech industry embraced telecommuting early, but others such as healthcare and financial services have been slow to follow. For the former, challenges may lie in the sector’s need to secure patient and client data. These sectors also present a different set of daily workflow requirements. This said, COVID-19 and the need for self-quarantines and social distancing is shining a light on the need to bring telecommuting and work from home (WFH) to the masses. It’s the new normal, and both companies and employees are struggling to find their way. I applaud a handful of companies in the networking space that are taking a proactive stance to help in this journey.
Cisco Systems is offering no-cost access to new customers and extending access for existing customers to its WebEx collaboration and Umbrella, Duo and AnyConnect security platforms. The company is also providing collaboration and WFH tips and tricks. The company put together a very comprehensive COVID-19 resource website, which you can find here if interested. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins shared this week that that the company supported over 5.5 billion WebEx minutes in the first eleven business days of March. Clearly, many are turning to Cisco’s video collaboration capabilities to keep business running in these uncertain times.
HPE Aruba has long offered Remote Access Points (RAPs)—preconfigured Wi-Fi devices that offer plug-and-play remote connectivity to corporate networks, with all the necessary security settings required for the enterprise. Virtual Private Networking (VPN) clients can be tricky to manage for smaller companies, but Aruba is also extending free licenses for its VIA solution in the interim. I’ve been in contact with HPE Aruba senior management about all of this. While more COVID-19 details are forthcoming, the company already has an effort in place to ensure business continuity for its customers around the world. Additionally, it is working to provide support for distance learning solutions for K-12 and higher education support for students, teachers and professors alike.
Mobile operators stepping up to provide continuity
Mobile operators around the world are also stepping up to ensure personal and business continuity. In the United States, AT&T is offering unlimited wireless and wired home broadband, no cost 90-day licenses of its WebEx service, free call forwarding from office to home with AT&T IP Flexible Reach and secure connectivity in the form of its AT&T Global Security Gateway and Network Enterprise Traffic Protector solutions. AT&T, like Cisco, created a COVID-19 resource website, which you can find here. As T-Mobile and Sprint finalize their merger, both are raising data cap limits and adding additional capacity through spectrum agreements—with an emphasis on extending access to both consumers and enterprises. The T-Mobile EmpowerED digital learning programs are also offering 20GB of no cost data access over the next 60 days. Verizon is prioritizing access to its education and healthcare customers, as well as first responders and government agencies. From my perspective, one of the most impactful things the company is doing is tripling the monthly data allowance for its Verizon Innovative Learning program, which aids nearly 100,000 disadvantaged students.
European operators are also doing their part to extend mobile access. Vodafone is offering bonus data to both its pre- and post-paid subscribers. Additionally, it is providing unlimited national calling and unmetered access to official healthcare sites that are posting the latest developments on COVID-19. Telefonica is offering an incremental 30GB in data per month over the next 60 days, access to entertainment streaming content at no charge and access to free online lectures, workshops and over 25,000 training programs in disciplines such as video game design and software programming.
Can we break the Internet?
I was asked recently by a journalist if there was any concern about the Internet “going down” given the dramatic increase of people working from home. I simply don’t see any cracks in the armor. There have been dramatic advances in optical networking in recent years by the likes of Cisco and Nokia. This infrastructure supports the backbone of the Internet and brings with its massive speed and user scalability support. With the added capabilities of cloud computing, software-defined networking tools, artificial intelligence and edge enablement, quality of service is much more predictable and consistent than ever before. We will still experience outages, of course, but from my perspective it will be the exception not the norm.
The new normal of working from home and social distancing has created many new challenges. In response, networking infrastructure providers and telecommunication service providers have taken a proactive approach. They should be commended for their efforts to allay fears and bring a degree of normalcy to a time of great uncertainty. In particular, I believe their efforts to increase mobile network capacity, provide access to collaboration and productivity tools and provide security software will all instrumental in the weeks and months to come. I also believe these efforts will have a longer lasting impact. I have two daughters enrolled in college, and their course work will be online through the summer. I believe their generation will see the power of video collaboration and will carry that forward into their careers. I also believe this will encourage various tech industry events, such as Mobile World Congress and my hometown’s SXSW, to incorporate online streaming keynotes and tracks in the future.
I’m proud of the ongoing, proactive ways that the tech industry is addressing the challenges created by COVID-19. While these are certainly trying times, I consider myself lucky to be a part of the conversation.