By Andrew Cope, Head of Nokia Philippines
The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest health emergency the world has faced in generations. The unprecedented magnitude of this crisis means everyone is making a concerted effort to improve safety while trying to keep social and economic activities running — from governments and businesses to communities and individuals.
The Philippines will inevitably emerge out of this crisis, but the question we must then ask is, how will the nation enter the post-COVID environment? Talk of a “new normal” is commonplace, but how exactly will the Philippines transition towards it, and how can it harness new technologies such as 5G to create a smarter and safer society?
The Philippine connectivity drive is undampened
Before the pandemic, countries were moving full steam ahead with digital transformation to bring societies to the future and unlock new economic possibilities. This especially since, last year, the Philippines became the first Southeast Asian country to launch 5G as the first step on the path to wider commercial rollouts in selected urban and industrial locations.
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While the COVID-19 outbreak may have dampened the Philippines’ initial 5G ambitions, overall the nation is unperturbed as content service providers (CSPs) are still looking to roll out 5G coverage, at least in Manila. There are also plans to launch affordable 5G smartphones to make 5G services more relevant in the general market.
The launch of 5G — if viewed in isolation — is bold, as the Philippines has relatively low internet penetration in the region and the government’s efforts are now largely focusing on containing the pandemic in the country. However, if we consider the launch in tandem with the government’s digital transformation plans over the past few years, 5G could not be coming at a better time.
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines’ connectivity growth is driven by the rise of mobile phone connections (growing by nearly 30 percent in January 2020). Understandably, the long-term value in improving connectivity at the national level is prioritizing mobile telecoms and internet infrastructures, to reach many Filipino internet users who are more mobile-first.
Simultaneously, the pandemic disrupted many businesses. Sectors such as food delivery could adapt as they could quickly switch to contactless interactions and payments. However, the wider digitization of services, especially e-payments, will likely remain limited even for essential services such as utilities and financial services. The challenge now — especially as the country has extended its lockdown measures — is jumpstarting digital transformation in sectors that are providing needed services to Filipinos.
Adapting operations for efficiency and flexibility
Going the radical route is often precipitated by critical periods. We have seen drastic changes by global enterprises to support relief efforts, such as scent manufacturers reworking operations to make sanitizers and luxury automakers retooling production lines to create respirators. These may be novel, unprecedented circumstances borne by the current crisis, but it highlights is the importance of manufacturing and supply chain actors to adapt their resources quickly to solve pressing societal problems.
To assist with these organizations’ relief efforts, CSPs must support their ability to adapt and supply solutions to society more quickly. This can only be done via broader digitalization, which is especially relevant now as the pandemic has restricted our movement. During such times, technology must enable greater remote access, but doing so reliably to enable critical public services requires ultra-fast and low-latency connectivity. Hence, CSPs – alongside the enterprises they work with – must harness the move to 5G.
This is as 5G can give connected enterprises the flexibility and adaptability that provides the gift of time – a valuable commodity under normal circumstances, but an extremely vital one in times like now. With 5G, the digitalization of industries will reduce the time taken to design and build solutions, alongside helping organizations be technologically prepared to weather disruptions caused by unforeseen circumstances.
The crucial role of Network slicing in 5G transformation
‘Time to market’ is just as important as ‘time to manufacture’, and the key to 5G enabling rapid deployment of solutions is network slicing. Slicing is not a new concept. Virtual network capabilities have been part of packet networking for decades. However, 5G deployments will extend this virtualization to an end-to-end and top-to-bottom functional scope, and then embed slicing as a core function of the network. The benefits include the ability to differentiate broad classes of services that require certain characteristics or resource parameters with performance characteristics that fit the needs of new segments – something that conventional one-size-fits-all networks cannot achieve.
With network slicing, 5G can support diverse and extreme requirements for latency, throughput, capacity, and availability. It will enable services that were impractical with previous wireless technologies. This includes the development of more efficient, ‘connected’ ports, which enable faster machine-to-machine communications that can fully automate port operations. This will create opportunities to improve cargo throughput – especially beneficial during crises where supply and distribution lines (especially in an archipelagic nation like the Philippines) risk being disrupted.
All this is possible with 5G, and network slicing support helps aggregate vast amounts of data from multiple, dispersed sources for better insight into operational status, therefore allowing for new levels of supply chain efficiency, visibility, and transparency.
Emerging stronger out of the crisis
The Philippines has been adversely impacted by the ongoing pandemic, but there is reason to be optimistic. The government and CSPs understand that wider digital transformation is crucial to not only empower more Filipinos to survive in the post-COVID environment, but also to prepare the country’s connectivity infrastructure for future emergencies.
Such efforts should be lauded, and we are doing our own part to help through our COVID-19 network traffic dashboard, which analyzes global network traffic to help CSPs anticipate capacity requirements and optimize resources.
Currently, we must all remain steadfast in enduring COVID-19, as we are certain to come out stronger. When we do, 5G is there to help us create a world that is smarter, safer, and prepared to weather critical periods.