2020 was a year to forget for many businesses but it might have also set-in motion a raft of changes that will last well beyond 2021. Changes such as more of us working from home, for example. But regardless of what percentage of people continue to work from home in 2021, the prediction is that Covid has made businesses realize the need for greater flexibility in how we connect and communicate, whether that be the company telephone system, accessing documents, video conferencing or collaboration software (MS Teams, Zoom).
Whilst many businesses will have already adopted some form of Cloud working, this year will certainly accelerate the shift towards moving any remaining on-premise applications, files and telephone systems into the Cloud - in this way there will be less reliance on a single site and vastly improved flexibility in how staff can connect and access. Where this is not possible circuits with high uptime targets will be needed, such as RAO2 diversely routed fiber Ethernet, to keep the workforce connected.
Although people will have originally learned to deal with low quality calls or video over the last few months, there will be far less tolerance moving forwards as the economy begins to recover and businesses start to grow again. We are likely to see business-grade connectivity installed in our homes which is much more capable when it comes to supporting the voice and video applications being used to conduct supplier and customer meetings. It is extremely frustrating to have to deal with poor VoIP calls, especially when the nature of these calls can involve sensitive information or highly important content. How often have you got to the important part of a call only to be met with broken dialogue or seconds of silence? Voice quality matters, so think of FTTC Ethernet as one growth area - a great way of improving the shoddy broadband experience that many people working from home had to put up with during the first lockdown. Let’s not forget those working in professional services, for example a highly paid lawyer talking to a high-profile client regarding an important legal case. How important is voice quality in this situation (and countless others)? It makes all the difference to the service they are able to provide.
The WFH shift
Face-to-face meetings are going to be a thing of the past with far less time spent travelling. Undoubtedly, the prevalence of working from home will continue, with many of us having worked in this way for the best part of the year. Many firms are coming to the realization that all of their workforce will be mobile in some form or another. Along with this mobility, and people working from home at least part of the week, we might also see workplaces transition into social areas - instead of just desks, you might have hot desks. It is especially important for organizations to start thinking about all of this now as we head into an era of an increasingly vaccinated population leading to a post-COVID surge in mobile workers.
Whilst companies will still have office space for staff to meet, we could perhaps see a shift towards more distributed and smaller spaces, with a focus on meeting rooms and hot desks, rather than a single main site with permanent workstations. Such distributed workspaces will demand more robust and resilient connectivity and therefore flexible backup options will also become more important at remote sites in order to avoid downtime. An easy to use and manage Hosted PBX will be key to effective communication and security too will be a much bigger consideration. For any organization developing a remote working strategy, look to encrypt traffic on unknown or insecure networks to avoid so-called Man-in-the-Middle attacks or to prevent any accidental data loss. Consider solutions that prevent unofficial app downloads, with so many staff away from the office this is a popular way for ransomware to be distributed. And in order to protect a more widespread workforce, we should expect a more general move away from local firewalls to easy to manage cloud-based Firewall-as-a-Service.
Connectivity is King
Connectivity will be critical for staff working remotely as firms try to meet the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce. Workers need secure, encrypted and reliable connections so that they can quickly and easily access applications and services. If you work in a disconnected environment, you can’t achieve the same levels of productivity as when previously in the office. Recreating this seamless (office) experience for users while working remotely could prove to be game-changing.
We will see the launch of more fiber-based connectivity products from multiple suppliers which will drive the cost down to the end user such as FTTC and FTTP Ethernet as well as single order GFast and SOGEA circuits. This will accelerate the migration away from copper based analogue line PSTN based products. Expect to see far more media coverage surrounding the 2025 network shutdown as more and more exchanges are announced as ‘stop/sell’ and customers begin to take action to upgrade and future proof their connectivity now, rather than later, in order to accommodate the shift in working practices. There will be a drive for companies to become leaner, concentrating on greater efficiency and cost savings. This course of action requires a greater uptake of technologies that are able to deliver on this including, IoT, AI, or analytics, all of which will provide a much better visibility of a company’s assets including their management and maintenance, in the face of things becoming generally more distributed. Using a variety of sensors and devices, Mobile Data and IoT will be a key factor in how these assets are connected whether that be low powered Narrowband-IoT solutions for remote and longer-range low data applications or 4G/5G with higher bandwidth, lower latency, fixed IP address requirements. We will undoubtedly see a lot more mobile and fixed line alternatives.
So, we can expect to see Covid continuing to influence the landscape this year with telecoms technology set to grind up the gears and influence the changing working environment, whilst emerging IoT and AI technologies start to exert themselves too.
Dom Norton, Sales Director, Spitfire Network Services