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Hindsight is 20/20

A review of the year that tested our mettle,
and proved the true grit of the telecom industry

2020 seemed so normal, until a pandemic upended our world. Now we can see the prescience of investing in next-generation tech and infrastructure – it kept us connected even when the virus forced us apart. 

Homemade video went mainstream. TikTok and memes taught us world news and virus stats. Robots left the shadows. Icons died. And most everyone – from heads of state to heads of family – learned how to download an app and work their webcam during the wild ride that was 2020.

January jolt

  • 5G makes it onto the menu at the World Economic Forum in the swanky Alpine town of Davos, Switzerland, and gets the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump who tells Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri at their own WEF dinner: I get it: 5G’s the ballgame. That’s something I can get behind!” 

  • Foreshadowing a year of private wireless network triumphs, Light Reading offers a reveal of Infrastructure Networks – “the biggest private wireless network operator you’ve never heard of,” says LR’s Mike Dano. Covering 130,000 square miles of US territory, the 5G-ready network uses Nokia AirScale to provide 99.99% reliability to industrial giants like Haliburton and Schlumberger so they can operate in hard-to-reach places.

  • Africa gets easier to reach, too. Angola Cables is first to connect the U.S. and Africa over a direct, trans-Atlantic route using subsea fiber-optic cables. These cables form the backbone of the global internet, connecting countries and continents across vast distances.

  • And sadly, Mr Peanut can no longer be reached. The world learns from a bizarre Planters publicity stunt that the nut brand’s mascot for 100+ years sacrificed himself – for a Superbowl ad. The campaign sparks worldwide sorrow, debate, and kudos, racking up more than eight million YouTube+Twitter views.

February freeze

  • The Corona virus begins to dash 2020 hopes. GSMA cancels its Mobile World Congress industry showcase and, in the absence of face-to-face, Nokia announces plans for a series of “live” events, including Real Talk 2020.

  • WIRED shares: “The Nikkei Asian Review reports that China is blocking manufacturing giant Foxconn from reopening factories, potentially delaying production of devices from several companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Huawei.”

  • For the first time ever, the Academy Award for best picture goes to an international feature film: Parasite. And remember when things like cloying hold music bothered you? Octopus Energy finds a way to solve it, matching your phone number to the date of birth on your account and playing the #1 song from when you were 14.

March madness

  • The WHO declares coronavirus a pandemic—lockdown, key worker and self-isolate enter the daily lexicon. 

  • Telecom answers the call for help. Governments grant temporary spectrum licenses to free up capacity. Operators waive data caps, overage charges and late fees.  And students get a break on their Wi-Fi as e-learning normalizes.

  • Strangers crash a Zoom meeting on cyberattacks. Staff meet a Potato Head-on. Others find relief, forgetting they’re on camera.  And e-learning kids keep popping up on parents’ calls. 

  • And as video stats soar, Nokia Bell Labs spreads hope, setting a world record for how fast we can simultaneously stream 1.5 million YouTube videos with a demo of the highest single carrier bit rate at 1.52 Tbit/s over 80 km of standard single mode. (Filed under facts you’ll never need to know when you browse your Watchlist)  

  • Keep calm and carry on. In a rare move, BT reassures the nation.

The UK’s communications infrastructure is well within its capacity limits, and has significant headroom for growth in demand… Our networks have never played a more critical role
Howard Watson
BT's Chief Technology and Information Officer

COVID-19 shifts network patterns:

  • Internet traffic rises 30% to 50% in just a few weeks
  • DDoS attacks rise 40% in one month
  • Video and gaming apps burn through data with average per consumer upstream in Europe rising from 1.1Mbps to 1.7Mbps since March – and stabilizing there for long periods of the day.
  • Business VPN usage increases: 240.49% in the Netherlands, 206.29% in Canada and 207.86% in Austria according to NordVPN.   
  • The U.S. CDC reports a 154% increase in telehealth visits March 23-29.
Networks in 2020

April adaptive

  • Working from home, socializing from a distance, chatting with Grandma – video keeps us together. The world embraces new modes of creation and communication. 

    • 100 artists perform from their living rooms due to the coronavirus lockdown in the One World: Together At Home concert.

    • And Bloomberg reports that CBS will use FaceTime, Zoom and other apps to create an episode of the drama “All Rise”.

  • Nokia and U.S Cellular boosting spectrum capacity after FCC decision to expand connectivity due to COVID-19 networking demands.

  • Telecom companies keep on keeping up.

[Nokia's] latest assistance in helping us launch this additional spectrum enables us to continue delivering our customers a fast, rich and uninterrupted network experience throughout this critical time.
Mike Irizarry
U.S. Cellular EVP and CTO

May moves

  • Facebook is connecting with Africa’s young population, announcing news of the 2Africa consortium’s plans to build a 37,000km undersea cable. This will bring faster internet to 16 countries on a continent where only 40% have access to the web.

  • And Alphabet Loon is connecting with Telkom Kenya, using stratospheric balloons to reach regions too remote or undeveloped for traditional infrastructure. The HAPS project will connect remote clinics with referral hospitals to assess and manage infections as part of the pandemic response.

  • Elon Musk and singer Grimes have a son, name him X AE A-xxii, then explain how to pronounce that name.

June joiners

  • Deutsche Telekom and SAP program a COVID app in 50 days. Using an open  source approach, more than 109,000 visitors view the coding and community contributions hit 7,250. Six million people download the app. DT shares that: “The Corona Warn app is the largest open-source project ever carried out on behalf of the German government.”

  • Bell Labs shrinks an optical sensor (OCT) to the size of a cell phone and probes 2mm into skin, in a step toward using our clothing as a health monitor.

  • Nokia doubles down on O-RAN, unveiling a suite of products and joining the new alliance that should help automate and optimize the mobile network.

Nokia went all Che Guevara Tuesday morning with what appears to be the first-ever commercial launch of open RAN (O-RAN) 5G products by one of the giant kit vendors
Mike Dano
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies for Light Reading 23 June 2020 via Twitter

July jockey

  • COVID-related food supply fears spur growth in vertical farming. World leader Japan has 200 large-scale ‘farming as manufacturing’ plant factories. China has 80. Market is projected to reach US$7.3 billion by 2025 from US$2.9 billion in 2020.

  • Railway giant ÖBB Infrastruktur AG last year transported 270 million+ passengers and 100 million tons of freight. They’re now working with A1 Austria and Nokia in a 4G/5G network slicing pilot to automate train control. This new technique gives customers their own piece of a network pie – a breakthrough in providing low-latency, high-bandwidth for the most sensitive of operations.

  • Mining industry goes deep with private wireless networks. The Vale mining operation in Brazil will control autonomous mining equipment such as ore trucks and drill rigs. Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology is automating processes at its test mine in Tampere, Finland, and will use 5G capabilities for remote machine operations over 4K video links between deep underground and the surface control center.

August aloha

August is a month of goodbyes and hellos:

  • After a decade at the helm of Nokia, CEO Rajeev Suri steps down and we welcome Pekka Lundmark who says: “The company is well-positioned for the 5G era and it is my goal to ensure that we meet our commitments to our customers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders.

We bid goodbye to other old friends:

  • “To better support the high data usage on our network, we are sunsetting our 3G network to boost capacity for next generation technologies," explains AT&T in a statement to Light Reading. All the nation's big wireless network operators are planning the same.
  • 1.55 million U.S. pay-TV subscribers flee in Q2 and there are signs of a second more damaging wave due to content redirection by media giants to subscription and ad-supported streaming services, according to MoffettNathanson.

September spirit

  • Dreams do come true: Disney+ mixes up the online streaming options as the Mouse House looks to add subscribers in eight European customers to its 60.5 million paid subs globally. 

  • Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is a top 10 album again – 40 years post-release – after a 23-second selfie video of Doggface208 (aka Mr. Apodaca) singing to Dreams and gulping cranberry juice while skateboarding goes wildly viral on TikTok. His chill vibe video racks up 11.7 million views.

October ovation

  • In its next step to getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making UK’s transport network greener,” Telefonica’s O2 UK launches the country’s first commercial lab, using 5G from Nokia and satellite communications to test connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).

  • Equinix, a giant in interconnecting carrier networks all around the globe, is adding Nokia IP to support those customers as they ramp up 5G services.

  • 5G-enabled industries have potential to add $8 trillion to global GDP by 2030, reports Nokia Bell Labs. 5G mature companies are growing faster and are the only group to have experienced a net increase in productivity (+10%) following COVID.

  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine globally, reports Frontiers in Public Health, predicting the telemedicine market will grow from US$38,046 million (2018) to US$103,897 million by 2024.

November non-stop

  • Lockdown is the word of the year, according to Collins Dictionary. Though “mukbang” is a contender. From the Korean meogneun (eating) + bangsong (broadcast), it means “a video or webcast in which the host eats a large quantity of food for the entertainment of viewers.” 

  • Baby Shark passes 7.043 billion views, “which officially makes the kid-friendly, adult-terrorizing earworm the most-watched YouTube video ever,” writes Sean Hollister on theverge.com. The video had 2.5 billion views in April.

  • In a not necessarily connected story, YouTube experiences problems and Netflix fills the void. The streaming service sees a 20% growth in peak traffic and returns to normal when YouTube recovers.

  • Reuters reports “a team of friendly robots is giving a much-needed boost to both staff and residents at a German care centre for the elderly.”   

  • MIT study shows more than 75% of the US contributions to algorithms at the heart of modern inventions (which the US dominates) come from immigrant researchers.

  • Even heads of government face technical hurdles as British PM Boris Johnson’s videolink to parliament appears to fail.

Have you pressed the button?
Boris Johnson in the midst of a critical covid announcement

December delight

We close the year with more good news:

  • A study with Telefonica proves 5G networks are up to 90% more efficient than legacy networks.

  • Indonesia’s port management company Pelindo 4 will crane-mount an IP router to stream 24/7 real-time data over LTE.

  • AT&T expands its IoT connectivity offer to more industrial customers.

  • And in a weird coincidence of High 5s, a five-member German research network is going to explore small- and medium-sized 5G innovations on a 5G private network.

It was a Dickens of a year—the best of times, the worst of times. The amazingly robust telecom industry met the challenge, keeping networks humming no matter what came at them. Now that we have the promise of a vaccine to end coronavirus, it’s not unreasonable to assume that 2021 will be better. Still, we can look back on 2020 as a boom year for innovation, resiliency and 5G readiness. Onward!