Roundtable: 2020, A Comms Industry Turning Point?

2020 is still young, but it’s already a year like potentially no other, with global pandemic and subsequent lockdown of billions of people fundamentally changing how we communicate with each other.

As remote working becomes the new normal for millions of businesses around the world and a long and likely painful global recession looms, we wanted to get a better understanding of exactly what the future holds for cloud communications.

Check out our new virtual roundtable, ‘2020: A Turning Point for the Comms Industry?’ to hear the thoughts of an expert range of panelists – from their living rooms and home offices – on where our industry goes from here.

Special thanks to Patrick Watson, Senior Research Analyst at Cavell Group for hosting and all of the panelists:

virtual roundtable

Scroll down for a text-based recap of all the action, follow along in the video above, or listen along!

Topics of Discussion

  1. Interesting Trends Brought About By this Crisis
  2. The Cultural Shift Required in Businesses for WFH to Flourish
  3. Security and Compliance Considerations
  4. Internet Connectivity Issues
  5. What will Future Solutions Look Like?
  6. Will Remote Working Remain the Default Option in the Future?
  7. Do We Have the Capacity for Long-Term Remote Working?
  8. Is Global Infrastructure Ready for Mass Working From Home?
  9. What Does the Post COVID-19 Comms Landscape Look Like?

 

Simon (Meetupcall): We saw a significant rise in voice traffic that’s not gone away just yet. To give you an idea, on Friday 13th March, voice traffic was up 40% on a typical Friday. Saturday and Sunday tend to be quiet for us [as we are a conferencing platform]. By the following Monday, our voice traffic had jumped 350% and it remained that way for the next two weeks.

During this period, there were a lot of town-hall type calls with 100+ participants. You would assume this was organisations managing the crisis internally themselves. But in the last 4-6 weeks our traffic has remained over 2x what it was pre-corona and new enquiries are up 5x.

Mehmet (Voxbone): We saw exponential growth across the board for demand in capacity across every market. We’ve even seen massive demand from other carriers asking for coverage in certain areas. It might be because they’re using legacy technology and are unable to scale as quickly, but demand has been insane in every country.

We went into lockdown quite early on. We’ve been working from home (WFH) for 6-7 weeks now. It’s an interesting trend.

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There’s massive demand in every market for capacity.

Paul (Megaport): It’s different for us because we’re not directly involved in voice or video. We deal with all sorts of corporate traffic, but we’re not seeing major spikes, although we did see new peaks in March sustained since that period. Even though people are working from home, corporate traffic is still at a very high level.

READ MORE: How Everyone Working From Home Might Affect Cloud Comms

cloud comms

We also own and operate internet exchanges where we have a touchpoint with media and entertainment traffic as well as traffic going to mobile office working apps like Gsuite or Office 365 and we’ve seen new peaks around the world.

Jason (AudioCodes): We’ve seen an increase in voice requirements over the last couple of months most definitely.

Obviously video has become popular over the past couple of months. It’s natural. Families are using it to keep in touch, but voice is still very much there.

A lot of our customers are service providers. It’s been pointed out that demand for video is greater than voice. But are those numbers being skewed because people are using [video-based platforms such as] Teams and Zoom to speak so we’re not seeing the true number of voice calls being made?

call quality poll

What are the biggest obstacles facing businesses and users working from home?

Mehmet: Personally, it’s the blend between where the day starts and stops. I’m used to working from home, but every single day… waking up, turning on. You’re almost tempted to say I can’t do anything else. There’s only so much Tiger King you can watch before you start going insane. You end up trying to interface with people who are intelligent instead of people that want to kill tigers, so you end up working at all kinds of crazy hours.

In terms of what I’ve seen for companies adopting working from home culture there are two camps – there are those that know it’s possible and can see the benefit and there are those that were never believers in the first place. The first group either turned up whatever licensing they’ve already got or go out and get more. The ones that were against it all along started shipping full desktop PCs to people’s houses with no guidance how to get it working, no webcam, no headset, no monitor. And no real instruction on how to get going.

There was this general scrabbling to get going in this echelon of society that think people working from home are dossing about. Not actually working.

We’ve seen a massive increase in productivity. People able to just concentrate on what they’re doing.

Jason: I agree with Mehmet. I’ve been working from home for the last decade. It’s swings and roundabouts. You do end up working at 7 in the morning or 10 at night, but during the day you might need to do something else. I think you do have an increase in productivity because you are aware you need to put the hours in and show that you’re working when you are at home. It’s reducing traffic, it’s better on the environment.

I just hope a lot more companies embrace working from home post COVID-19.

I don’t think there’s any need for people to be stuck in offices or travelling halfway around the globe for meetings when a lot can be done using the tools in front of them.

Patrick (Cavell): I suppose it’s a philosophical twist. More of an outcome-based role rather than you come into the office and sit there for the designated time…

Jason: It’s a cultural change most definitely. I have spoken to a lot of business owners who think they need to have people in the office and know what they’re doing. Is that the best way to manage people when they’ve got to commute an hour-and-a-half each way?

 

What are you seeing from talking to companies trying to work from home?

Paul: Employers are going to have to trust their employees to do their work and be more independent when they work from home. What we see as we talk to larger corporations… initially they were on a major scramble to get remote workers. A lot had remote working capabilities but they were not designed to scale up to what they had to provide. So they spent a lot of time working on VPNs, getting security policies right, making sure employees could access cloud-based applications and worries about private connectivity and how that affected them as well.

We’re quite lucky these days we can easily scale the video platforms we use.

12-15 years ago, most video conferencing that larger enterprises used were hardware-based platforms and they didn’t scale well so you had to plan in advance.

NEXT: Engaging Employees From Their Sofa

engaging remote workers

Patrick: It’s an interesting point about security. As you say, initially there was an immediate dash to try and grab solutions to facilitate working from home but in the last few weeks definitely there’s been a heightened focus on the security and compliance elements that might not have been considered initially.

Simon: Internally for us, the majority of the challenges have been environmental. In particular, finding a quiet space to make calls or to concentrate.

Whether these are working from home problems or lockdown problems, I’m not quite sure at this point.

Certainly if you’ve got two people trying to work from home from the kitchen table that presents a challenge. And if you have young children who are not at school, even more so. Internet connection issues? Definitely. You forget everybody is not in that position [of having a good connection]. Even some of our technical team have connections that are not quite where they need to be for a permanent working from home strategy.

Mehmet: It varies massively [by geography]. In all corners of the world, you’ll have everybody at home. You’ll have people trying to earn money using collaboration tools, consuming bandwidth. In the other room in the house or maybe even in the same room, you’ll have their kid watching Netflix or Disney in 4K, chewing up all the bandwidth. It will just take it, completely non-discriminately.

In other countries, bandwidth isn’t as easy to come by. I think that’s why we’ve seen such a spike in demand for physical dial-in capacity for voice communications. Because people find when they try to join calls with colleagues, it’s not working perfectly well.

Infrastructure was never designed for everybody to be running everything 24/7 on residential broadband. Contention is going mad.

Paul: Things are going to change around the way businesses license software. People will want flexibility in the future around what they buy and how they license it. There’s no doubt in a few years time people who do need to be in the office won’t be able to pay for remote working software all the time when they don’t need it so flexibility is required there.

People will also want to be able to remotely manage their solutions and that might mean pushing more things to the cloud or just having more of a cloud focus on the tooling and the way you interface with the different packages you use. Maybe digital transformation has been languishing a little bit and we’ll need a repurposing and a refocus based on what we’re going through.

remote working poll

Simon: One thing useful for us is we’ve become power users of our own product so we can see what works and what doesn’t. And some of these tools that we use can also be an interruption, I’m thinking IM, these kinds of things, that can have a negative impact from a productivity point of view.

Jason: Businesses have fallen back to using whatever’s out there to enable them to be able to do their jobs remotely. You use what’s available to you.

Paul: I suppose there’s the looming problem of Shadow IT that’s probably risen from this. The amount of people who might be using WhatsApp or Facebook and platforms that might not be certified by an enterprise to communicate.

 

Will this Crisis Amplify and Accelerate a More General Cultural Trend Towards Working from Home?

Mehmet: I think we’ll see an exponential growth curve – what we’re seeing now – followed by a small dip when people are allowed to go back to the office and those who have had a bad experience, probably due to no training, decide to go back. Then as demand from employees increases to enable them to properly work from home now many have seen the benefits to be had in saved commute time, we’ll see a slow but steady trend upwards. But starting from way higher than where we were two months ago.

Jason: I think this has been a wake up call for organizations that haven’t embraced digital transformation, haven’t adopted technologies that allow employees to work from home. Like Mehmet said, there are connectivity issues to consider but from a disaster recovery perspective, organizations that haven’t had solutions in palace are now taking stock and having a look at it. We’re still getting enquiries in, even 5-6 weeks after lockdown. They’re saying ‘we’ve managed to get by, but now we need to put something proper in place and do this on a professional level’.

Paul: I agree with Mehmet, users will be going back to the office and saying to their managers ‘I effectively worked from home for this period of time, why can’t I do it at least part of the time in the future’, so I think they’re definitely going to be looking for that hybrid approach in the future.

remote working poll

Simon: I guess it depends on whether businesses care how their employees feel and is the experience that people have had in this lockdown scenario a realistic experience of what work from home will be like. I’d imagine stress levels are high because there’s an invisible killer virus, that people can’t go out. Resources are limited. Do those emotional feelings end up being associated with the idea of working from home?

For many people the experience of working from home could be tainted by the additional stresses of doing it under these circumstances.

I would like to see more organizations being flexible in allowing that mix of working from home or the office and employees making the decision of which is the most appropriate.

 

Long Term, Do we Have the Capacity For Vast Amounts of Working from Home?

Paul: All of the people who are using our network have the ability to control their own bandwidth. Then immediately they’ve got that problem sorted. We’ve got a flexible network. We have to leave quite a large overhead on our network for additional capacity. We saw an increase of about 15-20% of total traffic. And that didn’t really cause us any issues.

It’s good to see cloud providers cordon off some of their capacity for things like Teams and G Suite so they could cope with the capacity needed there. But I think people will want this ability to be more flexible in themselves, to have control over their own destiny without having to redesign everything that they have deployed within their current networks.

Jason: I was using 4G when we first had the lockdown and it was very noticeable that the mobile networks were creaking. I was regularly getting loss of connectivity. But that seems to have subsided. After about a week things settled down. I think there was that initial influx of people working from home, using mobile devices as their primary mechanism for communicating and then businesses catching up.

Even MS Teams struggled in the early days. There were reported outages and all sorts going on where the platform was just trying to catch up with this unprecedented increase of 37 to 44 million daily users in seven days. And let’s be fair, that’s actually quite phenomenal for a platform to be able to do that and flex that much in that short period.

Simon: We’ve seen the networks can cope. As Jason said, the big challenge was the sudden and immediate shift to work from home. Now, network operators have the data on what it looks like when everybody on the planet shifts to working remotely and we’ve got a high watermark of demand across these networks.

VIDEO: See Mehmet’s Talk on Business Continuity for Cloud Comms in 2020 and Beyond

Is the Global Infrastructure In Place for a More General Work From Home Trend?

Mehmet: No, not from a telecoms perspective. The vast majority of countries are still running legacy TDM-based infrastructure where scalability is slow and rubbish. What this will do is fast track the development of countries towards IP-based backbones.

In a country with TDM E1 interconnects, you’re looking at weeks of lead time for capacity increases and that’s crazy in a scenario like this.

As is the case in Paul’s network, you should just be able to say: ‘We need more capacity, turn up the dial. We don’t need the capacity any more, turn it down a little bit.’ There should be that level of flexibility in the PSTN networks and that just doesn’t exist.

That’s part of what we’re trying to change. We’re building our layer on top of what exists and unifying that experience to all of our customers, waiting for the countries to catch up and become IP-enabled. And once they are, consumption of those services will be much more seamless.

We effectively sold out in certain markets. The reason was because the countries couldn’t give us the capacity quickly enough because they ran out of physical boxes to plug us into. That’s a crazy thing to happen in this day and age.

 

What is the Longer-Term Impact of this Current Crisis?

Mehmet: It is driving an exponential growth at the moment. For some conferencing providers whose traditional model is B2B, they’ve had a large influx of consumers picking up their products to use them for video calls. The majority of that will die off. Families will want to congregate together in the real. What we’ll be left with is the real growth that we saw in B2B communications.

There’s some level of artificial inflation here where the professional communication tools giving away free licenses have been picked up by the consumer and used for purposes that they were never intended, but on the flip side we’re saying Facebook pivoting and releasing a Zoom competitor, Facebook Meetings, to try and capitalize on this market. I think that’s one step too late too slow. They’re late to the game. There’s lots of people providing comparable services and lots of people providing better services.

Simon: We’ve had an increase in our customer base, but is that the next 12-24 months’ worth of customers that we’ve just got in the last two weeks? It could well be.We could have condensed 2 years of business into the last month. So I really don’t know. Is it a turning point? Yes. Which direction is it turning? At this point, not so sure.

Our market just got a lot bigger, but the competitive landscape just got a lot more aggressive.

Paul: Companies are going to look at readiness preparations in a different way. I think companies will do readiness days more often and there’ll be a rewriting of disaster recovery plans and how networks are going to deal with it. And maybe more of a push to the cloud for certain things.

We received plenty of great questions from participants to this round table. Stay tuned for more from our panelists on the questions you wanted answered in the coming days!

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