As the COVID-19 pandemic transforms the way we work, stay connected, go to school, and on essentials around the world, bridging the digital divide has never been more important than 3.6 billion people stay offline.
That’s according to top experts from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), who outlined the implications of the new coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday during a digital briefing to correspondents in Geneva.
“A digital new society was already entering our lives, but we never thought we could be forced to stay at home and use the digital worlds to connect ourselves and ensure our business continuity. So that’s something absolutely new.” , said the ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
He praised workers in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector during the pandemic, described by another ITU official as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.
Internet traffic & # 39; tripled & # 39;
“We must also recognize that ICT services and ICT networks are not so easy to manage, because under such circumstances no one could imagine that traffic could triple to some extent,” said Mr Zhao, referring to the massive wave of video conferences and the capacity of smartphones that caused the health crisis. A major challenge was the massive shift in broadband usage in urban office buildings, to the suburbs and rural areas, where people are now teleworking at home.
“An additional spectrum has been identified,” said Mario Maniewicz, director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, adding that such resources can be used by countries “for new technologies that can help provide coverage to disadvantaged communities at affordable prices. technologies are both satellite and terrestrial and can cover large areas, and promise to enable affordable broadband access in rural and remote areas. “
& # 39; Universal Need & # 39; broadband
Mr Maniewicz added that now that governments have been allocated spectrum, they should use these existing allocations to enable telecom providers to meet their acute “universal need” for broadband access.
The call for universal access has never felt so keen, said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU & # 39; s Telecommunication Development Bureau: “There is a lot of talk about defining the new normal in the post-Covid world and for me & # 39; new normal & # 39; should include broadband access for everyone. “
With 1.5 billion children not currently attending school, she pointed to the urgent need for a digital partnership such as ITU is currently entering into with the UNICEF Children’s Fund, known as the GIGA initiative, to ensure that education can be delivered everywhere through online platforms.
Online child protection guidelines
At the same time, she said, the ITU saw the need to accelerate the delivery of global online child protection guidelines, expected to be released in the next two weeks.
A worrying development is the massive surge in cybercrime that has accompanied the transition to digital in the COVID-19 crisis.
“The COVID-19 crisis has also spurred a huge wave of online criminal activity,” said Bogdan-Martin. “Bad actors have taken advantage of fear and uncertainty, and my own cybersecurity team has set up an online repository to really help countries protect their network, companies and of course their users. And of course this is linked to the risks for children. “
A leading international telecom company, Vodaphone, has been named to report a 300-fold increase in phishing attacks through its systems since its pandemic.
For all the dangers posed by the current scenario, and for fundamental challenges such as the unavailability of electricity grids, ITU officials remained optimistic about the opportunities presented by the current crisis to take advantage of the new political will to provide connectivity for all offer.
Contact tracing capabilities
In addition to expanding access, the ITU has studied several technologies offered to it to detect contacts during the pandemic, although Dr. Reinhard Scholl, the deputy director of the organization’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, said the world would have to wait “dust to settle” before making recommendations on what works best.
ITU’s senior official, Mr. Zhao, said that as the world envisions the future after COVID, the global development of 5G networks would be absolutely vital to providing services such as remote surgery and autonomous driving technologies.