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Infrastructure and Community Development 2 June 2020

In a Time of Crisis, A Global Lockdown Needs a Digital Unlocking

By Ivo A. IvanovGuest Author

We welcome this guest post from DE-CIX Group, an Organization Member of the Internet Society.

We are at a very special moment in history right now. Never before in modern times have we seen such a global impact and a global response to a crisis which largely ignores geopolitical borders. The COVID-19 outbreak and its repercussions have put cities, countries, entire regions on hold.

One saving grace of this crisis is that the global digital infrastructure – the terrestrial and mobile networks, the data centers, the undersea cables, and the satellite connections that support the global Internet – is by now well enough developed for people in many countries to stay in constant contact despite isolation.

This means that, today, lockdown does not necessarily need to mean shut down.

Digital applications are key to enduring the crisis

Digital communication is vital to this. It enables companies to send their workforce home to work. It enables people to stay in contact with loved ones they can’t meet with. It enables children and students of all ages to continue with their education. Even the researchers who we all pin our hopes on finding a vaccine are using digital applications to remain in contact and share data in their efforts to understand the virus.

So digital applications that enable communication and collaboration are key to enduring the current crisis. But even the best application cannot perform if the underlying digital infrastructure is not as solid, resilient, and secure as possible.

Digitalization – and therefore reliable digital infrastructure – is the only answer

Therefore, one answer to some of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – and the modern world in general – is sophisticated digital infrastructure, because this allows the use of smart digital applications and solutions which will make people’s lives better.

As a result, the interconnection community – more than ever before – must deliver continuous and high-performance connectivity: everywhere, for everybody, and for everything. This community, and the infrastructure that they build and care for, is just as critical as other critical services in a crisis. It is essential that this digital infrastructure is as global, open (neutral), resilient, scalable, and secure as possible, in order to deliver the many and varied services needed by people, institutions, and businesses.

As an element of this crucial digital infrastructure, Internet Exchange Points like DE-CIX are key to improving the quality of performance of digital applications and digital communication – for businesses, for medical facilities, for education, recreation/entertainment, and for news and media outlets – for all users, wherever they are.

Digital communication on the rise

As a global operator, DE-CIX’s Internet Exchanges on four continents are all recording the same trend: Internet traffic is growing, together with demand for quality. While different regions are at different stages of development, depending on when the COVID-19 infections began to take off in their locality, the trend is valid from North America to Europe, to the Middle East, and on to the Indian sub-continent.

Three types of Internet traffic in particular have risen substantially: traffic from collaborative communication tools has doubled since the crisis began, as has traffic from streaming services. This is significant of both enterprises and the education sector migrating their activities online. Added to this, we see around a 50% increase in traffic from online gaming. Everywhere, we see a similar demand for reliable digital infrastructure.

Communication behavior will significantly change in the long term

Many business decision-makers are beginning to recognize the long-term benefits of profound digital transformation. Companies are taking a long, hard look at how they manage their offices, how staff interact, how teams collaborate, what business travel is actually essential, and whether meetings can be reconceived to be more productive. They are becoming aware of how the move online can unlock the potential to save money and increase revenue.

Meaningful investment decisions should be made in the future

We have to learn out of this so we can make meaningful investment decisions in the future. Digital infrastructure is the enabler of this long-term transformation, and it helps to ease the pain of today’s lockdown. The Corona crisis throws into stark relief the regions that have solid, reliable digital infrastructure, and those regions of the globe that remain underserved. The digital divide must be eliminated so that all communities can in future have access to information, access to digital communication tools, and access to digital content. The Internet industry must take as their mandate the goal of a minimum level of digital infrastructure everywhere.

Nothing will be the same after COVID-19. The current global crisis will change our life going forward, and to survive in the present and prepare for the post-Corona future, this global lockdown needs a full digital unlocking.

Resilient infrastructure depends on a resilient community. Learn about IXPs and how you can make a difference.

Image by Flo Karr via Unsplash

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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