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Digital Infrastructure Month In ReviewSometimes the questions in our industry may be more interesting than the answers. We certainly saw interesting questions in September: Does ICT bring stability to an uncertain world? Will COVID-19 make a lasting impression on the Internet? Do the enormous traffic changes we have experienced mean “new network pressures” are emerging?

Questions like these invariably call for large ideas and – often – large numbers. Should COVID-19 responses necessarily accelerate global connectivity? That would mean a big price tag. The ITU reported that connecting the remaining 3 billion on the planet in this decade would cost USD 428 billion.

Regardless, recovering ground lost to the impact of COVID-19 now seems a priority, given the possible reversal of the “human capital” gains made over the past decade in many countries. Post COVID-19 Asia will need investment, agreed the Asian Development Bank, particularly in digital infrastructure, services, and regulatory systems to create financial futures.

In short, avoiding a “lockdown generation” burdened with lowered opportunities for decades probably means an urgent attention to skills development at the very least. The potential shortfall is huge. Worldwide, according to the World Bank, more than a billion students are not in class, so just how do we educate entire populations now? Experts mulled what new remote and hybrid learning strategies mean. In the U.S., where potentially 50 million children may need online education this year, operators have begun to launch tailored data packages.

New Demands
Back in the industry, the debate on changing times continued. In the satellite sector, one CEO argued many operators are simply too small and the industry overall needs consolidation to remain competitive. Some argued for more partnership thinking, particularly outside the sector. More military applications will use commercial space Internet capabilities. Intelsat, still in Chapter 11, surprised commentators by buying inflight connectivity provider Gogo. Executives suggested remote sensing and imagery was about to enjoy a renaissance. SES Networks believes that significantly more users accessing the enterprise network and cloud from remote endpoints creates an opportunity for the satellite industry.

There were worries. Some pondered the need for new governing norms in space given emerging concerns about orbital debris, operations taking place in proximity to each other, and insurance. Experts mulled post-pandemic satellite-based maritime communication demand. The U.S. launched a cybersecurity space policy. At lower altitudes, we saw plans to invest in High Altitude Platform Stations.

In subsea, we saw – variously – the dropping of plans and reconfiguration of projects on transpacific routes because of ongoing security concerns in the U.S. We heard Cook Island users will be Manatua cable’s first retail customers. There were new local deployments in Quebec, Canada, while Malaysia announced it planned to triple capacity between the east and west of the country in the next three years. In the Cayman Islands, one existing operator said a third undersea cable was unnecessary. We saw new transmission records set by TELUS and Ciena, while Microsoft concluded underwater data centers were realistic. Ocean Specialists Inc. (OSI) reviewed the different methods for using optical fibers as sensors with benefits beyond cable protection.

In the world of 5G, we saw pan-industry commitments in South Korea to boost rural coverage, while commentators in Europe said the continent suffered from “a clear lag” in progress and needed more fiber rollout too. We should see more focus on edge computing in the 5G era where latency advantages might drive value, said experts. Cross-domain service orchestration was considered important and a meaningful demonstration of 5G end-to-end operation of network slicing was announced in Japan.

Industry structuring (and restructuring) was a talking point. Consolidation seems both a reality and a prospect in several sectors. Just 10 groups control 40 percent of global wireless customers, said TeleGeography. Meanwhile, merger mania may already be here for the U.S. cable industry. Some worried that industry is increasingly shifting from quality to quantity experiences. Some thought that software, in an age of open networks and virtualization, may have disrupted the traditional vendor to operator relationship for good, and future network requirements may depend on being more predictive and less reactive.

The Pacific region saw new connections and upgrades. In Fiji, Digicel Fiji launched fixed wireless services for residential users, and Digicel Samoa completed LTE rollout.

Policy change (or, in some cases, no change) continued across Asia-Pacific. Australia saw an update to telecom policy as the National Broadband Network announced a new phase of investment and development. In New Zealand, mobile consumer issues surfaced and the regulator studied fiber input methodologies. In India, the regulator made what may be a far-reaching proposal not to intervene in the OTT sector.

Elsewhere, the questions continued to flow. Commentators asked if the TikTok saga signals a new era of geopolitics in tech innovation. Some believe cybersecurity is travelling up the corporate agenda and will confront CEOs with personal liability issues within five years. With data such an engaging topic, experts mulled changes to the transatlantic privacy shield. PTC asked Why Frictionless Business? introducing a new webinar series with a c-suite discussion that explored what new norms are being defined as today’s massive escalation of digital infrastructure development is creating complex new realities.

Big questions, indeed, but also the possibility that the industry could answer them. Perhaps, said some, we will now be demanding more from tech this decade as a result.

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Frictionless Business - Impact of COVID-19 on Data Centers and Network Infrastructure