As the Covid-19 pandemic has taken hold over the past few weeks and months, it has become clear that we are facing an unprecedented situation on a global scale.

Quite rightly, the media’s lens has focussed on how governments and healthcare systems around the world are tackling the immense challenges posed by the pandemic. Behind the scenes, however, a lot of work is being done to ensure the global community can continue to live their lives as normally as possible.

With billions of people instructed by their governments to stay at home for the foreseeable future, companies have quickly put in place policies to help colleagues work from home and to support them in striking the right work life balance. In Milan, I’ve witnessed first-hand this transformation of daily life, with people faced with turning their homes in to offices, conference rooms and in some cases schools for their children.

It’s been a challenging time. One of the most crucial components in enabling this ‘new normal’ to succeed has been the continuation of fast and reliable telecommunication networks.

From traffic handovers to static networks

We’d normally need millions of daily handovers between different parts of the network as people commute to work, use public transport, utilise open spaces or visit restaurants and bars in the evening.

However, in the space of a few short weeks of working ‘statically’ at home, this has become a secondary priority for operators who now need to ensure there is enough network capacity throughout the entirety of the day. It’s a situation compounded at weekends as people stay at home rather than go out, or travel to see friends and family.

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In some European countries, network operators are seeing as much as 100% increase in static traffic and a 30% reduction in handovers – a stark illustration of the ‘new normal’. What’s more, the demand on networks is now constant with a ‘flattening’ of traffic curves – as opposed to ‘spikes’ in the morning and evenings’ – due to continued and high traffic levels during business hours.

Transforming networks

While most people will not have noticed much of a difference, except perhaps when struggling to connect to a video conference or when streaming their favourite Netflix series in a lower resolution, it’s not as simple as waving a magic wand and seeing the network transform overnight.

To support the transformation of people’s lives around the world, several key factors need be taken into consideration and crucial steps implemented. To help operators mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on networks, at Nokia we advocate taking the following action:

  • Adopting a proactive approach: Operators will need to pay more attention than ever to the warning signs, studying ‘volume drivers’ closely to understand new capacity requirements as they emerge. Through predictive analytics and modelling of capacity requirements, operators will be able to keep networks running, while securing performance for critical services.
  • Embracing automation and AI: If operators are unable to swiftly move to act and fix problems as they arise, then the predictive work and modelling to spot them beforehand becomes redundant. Automation and AI enables operators to implement solutions far more quickly and efficiently, particularly with 5G networks. We are already seeing this happen in some parts of the world, where automation and AI is leveraged to ensure new pressures do not overwhelm networks.
  • Transforming time frames: Short term modelling and the ability to be agile to meet demand is essential. While operators normally model and predict traffic trends over a twelve-month period or more, they are now doing this over a 24-hour period – crucial in helping to underpin the world’s ability to stay and work from home.

Understanding movement patterns

While a ‘static’ way of living and working is the ‘new normal’ for the vast majority of the global population, network operators still need to be mindful of, and cater to, the requirements of essential workers who need to travel to places of work like hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets.

Furthermore, governments can utilise this network data to know if people are adhering to policies that will save lives. Aggregated, anonymised and securely encrypted data means this highly effective method in understanding movement patterns remains fully compliant with GDRP and other data privacy regulations.

With robust data protection policies in place, analysing movement patterns can help inform government policy for movement and travel restrictions – enabled by optimised networks, so that people can continue to work or learn from home.

The world has undergone a seismic transformation in the way we all work, live and consume technology. At the same time, it’s essential that companies like Nokia play our part so that operators, governments and public services are fully equipped to deal with this once-in-a-generation battle against Covid-19.

Never before have networks been more critical.

Read more: How to place employees on furlough leave: The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme