• Wednesday April 15th, 2020

MENA Region is Well Prepared to Tackle Telecommunications Challenges Amid COVID-19

Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) has released “Life after COVID-19: Telecommunications”, the fourth issue from its series of special reports launched following the novel coronavirus outbreak. The report examines the way forward in business continuity for organizations in the UAE and across the world, while considering the unknown variables set forth by COVID-19.  The research papers come at a crucial time where public and private sector organizations need to be well-prepared for future opportunities and challenges.

The Foundation’s latest report on the telecommunications industry recounts that with the infection accelerating in multiple countries concurrently, and in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, companies around the world have adopted remote working policies and have shifted events to digital platforms. As a result, it has led to a growth in employees compelled to work from home; consequently, prompting a spike in people using business Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to secure their remote working. This is thereby testing the effectiveness of existing corporate VPNs to support large remote workforces during these times and assess whether existing infrastructure needs to be upgraded to meet the demands of higher volumes of internet usage.

The report cites experts such as Daryl Plummer, Vice President, Analyst and Gartner Fellow at the research and advisory firm Gartner, who claims that in some cases, VPNs could become overloaded from spikes in traffic. “Many companies that use traffic-dependent VPNs may see transport problems, as connections are made from all around the world. This translates into slowdowns and reduced quality of service.”, he stated. “Companies that have not prepared for this will be forced to upgrade equipment to relieve the stress.”

Concurrently, as VPNs are not permitted in certain circumstances in all MENA countries, the report addresses the most important challenges that regional companies face in the absence of such networks, particularly when conducting international business communication online. With many work-related exchanges taking place online, the current situation puts significant pressure on the cost and efficiency of business communication and further exacerbates the challenges facing businesses that are struggling due to a drop in demand. The report, however, notes that this is an opportunity amid the current landscape to assess the potential impact of possible future regulatory changes in the MENA region and determine whether existing infrastructure needs to be upgraded and the market for VPN and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) liberalized.

With nearly all public gatherings called off amid the outbreak, the report underlines that existing broadband capacity will also be tested and there will be greater demand on networks due to the usage of online recreational activities. To elucidate, the report draws upon the example of the European Union (EU) – a region with around 445 million citizens, where there has been a significant increase in the use of entertainment platforms and streaming services for films and online gaming during the lockdown. The surge in internet traffic is expected to continue, as millions work from home across the continent to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU’s internal market and services, called on video streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube to take measures to prevent internet gridlock caused by people teleworking and streaming at home. Highlighting the increased demand on internet usage, which may be putting Europe’s broadband infrastructure under strain, he proposed data rationing as a future possibility that might help mitigate the higher demand for bandwidth during the quarantine period.

Analyzing the situation in the Arab region, online platforms for entertainment (gaming and streaming), retail and communication have seen significant increases in traffic during this period. The report states that potential infrastructure upgrades will be required to not only support increased traffic, but also to drive innovation and encourage the development of local digital platforms.

Notably, over the past decade, the combination of proactive government support and authorities’ efforts has contributed to the enhanced development of the region’s broadband infrastructure. In this context, the report states that the MENA region markets are now better positioned to tackle the ongoing situation.

The report touches on the importance of the initiatives launched by the UAE government and telecommunications companies with the aim of supporting businesses and individuals from the early stages of COVID-19’s spread in the world. This is done by ensuring the ability to continue work and distance education, through advanced infrastructure based on artificial intelligence, digital transformation and smart services.

A recent report published by The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation found that the UAE has progressed from the 104th to the first rank globally in terms of the internet and telecommunication level of competition. The UAE has maintained its position as one of the world leading countries in the global competitiveness indicators related to the ICT sector, according to the Global Knowledge Index 2019 (GKI 2019), issued by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation in partnership with the Regional Bureau for Arab States and the United Nations Development Program.

Looking ahead, the report  emphasizes that while countries in the Middle East, particularly in the GCC, are largely ‘on track’ with reviewing and adapting current regulatory frameworks, including the introduction of new regulatory frameworks for cloud services or Internet of Things, upgrading networks and rolling out 5G capabilities will be critical to transform and scale operations and to allow remote service provisioning.

Significant demand for technology offsets pressure on traditional economic sectors. The huge global demand for digital broadcast services via the Internet, such as YouTube and Netflix, has caused great pressure on the infrastructure for broadband services in the region and in the world as a result of hundreds of millions of people working from home in compliance with the measures to reduce the spread of COVID 19 virus. This pressure on broadband services may pose challenges that will soon lead to a legalization of the size of permitted data if the telecommunications sector is unable to meet the expected growth in the future.

Dubai Future Research, an initiative by the Dubai Future Foundation, is issuing a series of comprehensive and forward-looking reports and studies on tackling the many challenges in a post-COVID-19 world in collaboration with the public and private sector partners. The first three reports focused on the remote work, education and commerce.