How Familiar Will The “New Normal” Be?
By Chris Bastian
SVP, Engineering/CTO, SCTE-ISBE
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the world as we head into summer 2020. It has impacted everyone’s life, both professionally and personally. Beyond the horrible human tragedy of illnesses and deaths, “normal” routines went out the window. Kids came home from school and college, taking classes on-line. Many in the workforce, those whose work could be performed remotely, started working from home. While access to onsite medical services was reserved for life-threatening emergencies and critical care, doctors’ offices encouraged telemedicine appointments for routine care. I personally had my first telemedicine visit two months ago.
Having worked in the telecommunications industry my entire career, I am continually pleased to see the role that networks are playing in supporting people’s “new”, evolving lifestyles. While eye-opening to many in government and the general public, it is gratifying to see how communications networks have proven to be critical lynchpins in the accessing of services that support everyday life. Once, the cable industry was viewed as only a provider of entertainment services; today’s networks support delivery of the business, educational, entertainment and lifestyle content on which people rely. Teleconferences, lectures, telehealth, gaming, theater movies at home, and so much more are all supported by telecom connectivity.
The networks have also proven to be very flexible in adjusting to the heavier loads being placed on them. NCTA reports that over 72 million homes and businesses across the U.S. depend on cable networks to provide their connectivity needs. Since the onslaught of stay-at-home orders, the peak network usage across this population has increased more than 20% on the downstream and 35% on the upstream. Some network operators have reported “hot spots” of 60% greater usage in certain cities. Besides “turning the dials” to allocate more capacity for these hot spots, network operators have stayed ahead of the demand curve by increasing the pace of planned network upgrades. All in all, the networks have held up very well against this unprecedented shift in traffic demand.
How much of these services will stay shifted online after the pandemic subsides? One year from now, three years from now, what will our “normal” routines be like? Are these massive shifts to online services permanent? Certainly there is a lot to be said for meetings in-person, for having those hallway conversations at work, for developing those interpersonal relationships at school, and for being able to have the doctor diagnose your condition face to face. But this online service genie is out of the bottle and unlikely to be put back in. People are growing used to the online experience of work, learning and telemedicine. Once the crisis subsides, people will return to their offices, classrooms, and doctors’ offices, but the heightened reliance on online services will be here to stay.
The impact of the pandemic on broadband networks and the lessons learned from the crisis will be among the hot topics when SCTE·ISBE hosts Cable-Tec Expo® 2020 – virtually – Oct. 12-16. Check out expo.scte.org for coming details on these presentations that will be available to the cable community worldwide. While always the forum for presenting the latest technology developments in the cable industry, Expo this year will include a specific track on how operators and their technology partners have responded to COVID-19. Presentation topics will include:
- How critical components of a connected community are necessary for managing a public health crisis
- How NOCs and customer-facing teams can collaborate more effectively to weather a crisis
- Maintaining a workforce’s focus on network performance during a crisis
- How home and business connectivity is a lifeline during a crisis
Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications and the SCTE Foundation are presenting sponsors of Expo 2020. For more information go to expo.scte.org.
We are in an extremely trying time in our national and global history. The cable industry is out on the front lines providing critical services to our customers. Stay safe and well.