After Covid-19: Automation meets 5G

After Covid-19: Automation meets 5G

11 May 2020 | Arka Dhar

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Arka Dhar, CEO and co-founder of Zinier, explores how automation will help the deployment of 5G, in a post Covid-19 world.

As Covid-19 curves flatten and the world gradually re-opens, we’re forced to reconcile that we’re not returning to the old “normal”. Our world is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis in modern history, markets are undergoing record shocks, and at the corporate level, capital expenditures like 5G are on ice.

So, what is the future of 5G in the post-pandemic world?

Work with what you have
5G installation may be incredibly expensive, but the infrastructure behind it is useful for more than mobile internet. Fibre networks for small cells have already proved useful for fibre to the home (FTTH) installations. Brazil’s Oi telecom demonstrated this during the 2014 FIFA cup and 2016 Olympics, when it reused the excess bandwidth from the events for FTTH revenue.

For telecoms pausing the expensive acquisition and activation of 5G modems, FTTH work can provide returns without writing off existing work. This is especially useful during shelter-in-place orders that have spiked at-home bandwidth demand. But even beyond the pandemic, diversifying fibre use gives telecoms a revenue stream that’s protected from a single market.

5G is here to stay
After the dust settles, 5G rollout will continue. Many telecoms have already done a great deal of the groundwork in their fibre networks, with both AT&T and Verizon installing more than a million miles of fibre. Likewise, many of the equipment procurement contracts are already signed, but the supply chain shocks from Covid-19 will slow the pace. This gives carriers time to prepare and refine their field strategy for when 5G rollouts resume.

Efficiency is everything Navigating the post-pandemic world will be both expensive and inefficient. Supplying adequate PPE, sanitation, and social distancing through the use of additional vehicles is costly but necessary. But leaders don’t have to take the hit sitting down. With a lull in work from paused capex projects, executives have a unique chance to execute larger-scale changes.

To offset the cost of pandemic safety, a number of telecoms are implementing new technology designed to help them work smarter and faster. In the field, automation is enabling organisations to save time and money, both of which have been casualties of the pandemic.

While Covid-19 created the opportunity for integrating automation into field operations, ultimately it was the demands of 5G that created the need. Managing the complexity of 5G, with or without a pandemic, is hard. The rollout and maintenance of hundreds of small cells for every traditional tower is impossible to keep track of manually. With AI and automation, much of this can be done without human intervention.

With intelligent scheduling and dispatching, field teams can automatically assign the right technicians with the right parts at the right time. This prevents unnecessary truck rolls and helps ensure that all task dependencies are taken care of in real-time. It’s a game-changing improvement for field service, but a necessity for 5G.

Getting to the point of full automation is a lengthy process, but Covid-19 provides a window for large scale overhauls like field service automation implementation. And that’s never been more relevant with the increased costs of field service and the fundamental changes to work in a post-pandemic world.

Automation meets those demands by providing the necessary flexibility to handle fluid workforces and supply shortages, building pandemic-proof operations.

Conclusion
Covid-19 has been an unexpected crisis in many forms. For telecoms, there’s pressure to meet increased bandwidth demand without an increase in revenue.

Existing 5G infrastructure like fibre networks has helped meet some of this demand. But as far as 5G is concerned, the rollout will resume, just not in the way everyone initially imagined it.

5G is key to delivering for both consumers and investors, and new technologies like automation will be pivotal in enabling that rollout.