It’s no secret that COVID-19 has affected nearly every industry across the globe, including those in wireless and mobile technology. However, even with any hurdles or challenges that have arisen, industry professionals continue to innovate and enhance technology, which will continue for the rest of 2021.
Even with the pace of vaccinations rising by the day, much of the world continues to operate virtually in some capacity, and that will likely remain an integral part of how we connect and conduct business even after this pandemic subsides. This means much of the population will increasingly need cutting-edge connectivity and devices to work, learn and operate remotely in this new global climate.
Many different wireless trends and themes will take over throughout the rest of 2021, but three may be the most noticeable and most impactful: expanded 5G connectivity, smart office technology, and the continued rise of artificial intelligence. Below, we take an in-depth look at each of these trends and how they will impact our industry and world between now and the start of 2022.
Expanded 5G Connectivity
It’s finally here. 5G, or the fifth-generation wireless network, is set to make a major splash in the coming months and years, with many of our mobile carriers already developing and expanding their own 5G networks throughout 2020. Due to the virtual global environment in which we now reside, the addition of widespread 5G will bring many benefits to the mobile phones and various devices we rely so heavily upon.
5G networks will dramatically improve upon already existing 4G wireless networks, making it easier than ever for people to connect across their wireless devices. The speeds and bandwidth of 5G will affect consumers across the globe with the technology’s higher network reliability, improved data rates, and faster download speeds, which can be up to 100 times faster than 4G, depending on your location. Businesses will also utilize expanded 5G technology to improve their overall efficiency during the remote work era. For example, Verizon is using its 5G networks to introduce Verizon 5G Edge in the U.S., a service combined with Amazon Web Services that allows businesses to utilize cloud technology with the overwhelming benefits of 5G technology.
Consumers will also benefit from 5G enabling them to connect more of their devices with fewer latency issues. 5G’s low latency will decrease the lag between weblink uploads or lags in video conference calls, for example, getting consumers their answers and needs faster, and helping businesses avoid those awkward pauses in their next virtual staff meetings.
As many businesses continue to work remotely, students conduct e-learning, and people rely on their networks to connect with friends and family, the need for 5G is drastically higher now than when this technology was originally introduced. Carriers and mobile device manufacturers are racing to equip consumers with the latest network upgrade. In 2021, 60 percent of mobile phones sold in Western Europe and North America are expected to support 5G with the number to increase to about 85 percent in 2024.
Smart Office Capabilities
Nearly all businesses and industries across the globe have moved to a virtual setting in some form for the time being, with some using remote work indefinitely, as COVID-19 continues to surge across the nation.
Some businesses, however, will be looking to welcome their employees back to the office in some capacity in the coming months, now that the vaccine has become available to anyone over the age of 16 in the United States. Luckily, new technology can help business owners create “smart offices.” Businesses can maximize the efficiency of expanded 5G and the benefit of connecting more devices together by using Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which will run more effectively utilizing 5G and can make offices more connected and safe for employees in the COVID era and beyond.
We already use IoT devices — Fitbit watches, Alexa or Google Home devices, smart appliances — in our personal lives. The further development of 5G will allow office spaces to also benefit from smart devices. For example, fitness centers across the nation have been utilizing crowd trackers to keep guests safe and distant during the pandemic. A similar version can be used in an office setting to help employees maintain social distancing when they are on-site. We can even see businesses incorporate smart office capabilities with minimal in-office capacity by simply using smart lighting, power, and energy systems to save overall operating costs with fewer employees on-site. The continued advancement of our wireless networks and IoT devices will aid business owners immensely as they adapt to the new ways to operate their company.
Renewed Dedication to Brick and Mortar
The hiatus of customers in stores since the beginning of the pandemic has had drastic effects on businesses that once relied on in-person transactions. Customers have turned to chatbots, mobile apps, and other digital features to answer their questions and fulfill their needs, but these interactions have lacked valuable person-to-person engagement with in-store representatives. As it grows safer to operate stores in a similar capacity to what we were used to, businesses will need to meet consumers where they’re at and adapt to new habits that revitalize their in-store customer experience strategies.
Adequate customer service is important for customers, whether they are engaging with businesses and brands remotely or in person. In recent research, 79 percent of consumers reported customer service is extremely important when deciding on where to shop and what stores to engage with. As customers begin to return to store locations this summer and beyond, businesses need to ensure their customer service, both in-store and online, is up to standard to meet customers’ needs and wants.
It’s likely that social distancing precautions and regulations will remain in place for some time, even as more people get vaccinated, but there are many ways to address this through technology. For example, in-store employees can refer customers to online resources or apps that answer their questions more efficiently while in-store. This can also decrease the amount of time consumers are in-store, which not only keeps consumers safe, but also means fewer in-store employees need to overload capacity rules. To continue to offer safe options to customers, stores can also utilize touchless options such as curbside services, touchless payments, buy online/pick up in-store, and more. Businesses that can adapt their customer engagement models to fit customers’ evolved needs since the pandemic began will thrive in our post-pandemic business world.
The ways people and businesses operate are drastically different than they were one year ago, and it’s likely that it will be even more different a year from now. The good news is that our technology will continue to adapt and enhance the way we navigate the coming changes this year and beyond.
Chad Jensen is the President of Round Room LLC, which leads and invests in companies serving the wireless industry.