COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted the ways in which we live and do business, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future having accelerated a transition into a new way of life almost overnight.
For enterprises, this has been highly disruptive. The coronavirus pandemic has sparked the need for companies to rethink their current practices and embrace innovation, with many digital programs being transformed in a short span of time.
From abruptly transitioning to remote work, adapting entire product lines and market positioning in days, reviewing expansion plans under new economic circumstances, and managing teams through a crisis, management teams are under pressure to completely reshape the way their companies operate in real time.
The reality is, although the vast majority of companies had a digital transformation initiative in place, very few were developed enough to negate the impact of the pandemic.
This crisis has created a significant shift in terms of consumer behavior, impacting how we consume products, interact with other people, learn and shop. Out of necessity, many of the offline experiences we have are being rapidly digitalized. When labor is not available, opportunities to push the envelope in terms of technology adoption are accelerated.
Many of the consumer behavior changes we are seeing are, in nature, structural and will be the “new normal” going forward. For example, coming out of the pandemic millions of users worldwide will be more connected and more familiar with digital tools. The entire American educational system has essentially had to migrate online in the period of a few weeks – how will educational institutions react post COVID-19? Will this become the new normal for learning?
The ongoing shift towards remote work and interactions will drive demand for networking to unprecedented levels. Remote work is here to stay, as collaboration tools become pervasive across enterprises – Cisco, as an example, said the traffic volumes for its collaboration service (Webex) in late March were up to 24 times above its normal (*). In the same period, Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service, which powers communication platforms like Microsoft Teams, reported up to 775% increase in usage in regions that have enforced social distancing or shelter in place orders (*). Due to isolation, food delivery companies are experiencing record sales, part of that coming from new customers.
5G’s role in this new landscape
The common denominator across these different examples is the need for reliable connectivity. 5G is the great enabler of innovation and will allow businesses to access critical benefits they need, now more than ever. In this new world, the importance of 5G – the technology shift bringing a once-in-a-decade upgrade to the wireless systems – will be more central than ever.
With its super high speeds and low latency, 5G will redefine connectivity and make possible immersive reality experiences once only imagined in science fiction movies. It will connect billions of devices to the internet cloud securely and almost instantaneously.
5G represents the essential infrastructure that will allow a new age of interconnectedness, when the daily lives of people across the planet will be more closely intertwined than ever before.
The combination of 5G with pervasive Artificial Intelligence, embedded on smart devices (think about cameras, drones or robots) or in a distributed cloud architecture, will exponentially increase the benefits of the technology and bring an unprecedented level of intelligence to the whole system.
This 5G connectivity fabric will become a key component of the digital transformation for enterprises of all sizes.
A good example of large-scale, successful digital transformation is exemplified by Affirmed Networks, one of Qualcomm Ventures’ portfolio companies. Affirmed sells its products to Telco operators across the globe.
The company, whose acquisition by Microsoft was recently announced, was a pioneer in bringing cloud technologies to the Telco world, allowing service providers to manage their infrastructure with solid automation and flexibility.
Affirmed challenges the status quo, offering a product that enables Telco operators – concessionaries of governments’ strictly regulated businesses – to run their infrastructure using some of the cloud technologies like virtualization and full cycle orchestration. This very bold technology disruption – combined with the advent of 5G – results in a platform for Telco operators to launch radically innovative wireless services in a much faster and automated way.
By solving a very complex engineering problem, Affirmed created a strong competitive moat and influenced the whole Telco industry.
The aftermath of the pandemic will certainly create opportunities for startups to innovate, leveraging 5G’s full potential. The combination of shifts in consumer behavior with a powerful technology will result in a dramatic transformation in areas such as telemedicine, tactile internet, video-based collaboration tools, online education, immersive shopping and gaming, among others.
At Qualcomm Ventures, we are excited to work with some of the best entrepreneurs in the world to help them tackle some of these challenges. Together, we can help bring disruptive innovations to life for the benefit of global business ecosystems and communities.