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Battening down the hatches

Paul Brislen, Contributor. 18 August 2021, 3:17 pm

As we wait for news of the potential outbreak in Auckland, I can't help but think about what lockdown life would be like without fibre to the home and the ability to work remotely.

While not all jobs can relocate at the drop of a hat, being able to send all those office workers home and keep the economy going at the same time has been a major contributing factor in New Zealand's ability to bounce back from the economic abyss.

The services sector contributed around $200 billion to the economy in 2019 and the vast bulk of those jobs were able to be carried out remotely. Professional and technical services, financial and insurance services, education and training, administration, even arts and recreation - it's largely all digital these days and so can be conducted online.

Imagine what a hole we'd be in if all that had to stop for a period of time. Even a month or so would be dire, economically speaking, and we'd have something else to worry about. Instead, we have been able to focus on treating COVID as the health crisis it is.

The telecommunications sector has put in place a number of processes and support teams to ensure the lines stay open even during lockdown. The industry comes together to figure out what needs to be done, what projects need to be paused, and how we can work together to make sure you, our customers, are all able to carry on as normal a life as is possible.

Dial-up days

The last 20 years have seen a dramatic step-change in terms of our online ability. When I started covering the sector as a junior reporter, telecommunications was pretty much limited to copper lines and the exciting world of text messages. The radio news still spelt out email as "electronic mail" and web addresses were laboriously spelt out ("double-you, double-you, double-you"). Home users were stuck on 56k dial-up.

Today, the vast bulk of us have access to fibre to the home and increasingly we're signing up for the 1Gbit/s unlimited plans, which mean the kids can "do their schoolwork" (amazing how much of that seems to involve watching YouTube) while the parents continue working, all on the same home line that once would have fallen over just thinking about sending more than one email at a time.

On top of that, the mobile and fixed-wireless world is also putting its foot on the accelerator with 4G and 5G delivering tremendous capability and adding to our ability to battle COVID. Imagine what our response would be like if we were not able to scan a QR code and record our locations on the fly, or receive the emergency alert telling us exactly what's going on. Our ability to get up-to-date information and act accordingly in the best interests of our family and friends is entirely reliant on robust communications networks.

It has been a strange 18 months for everyone and it doesn't look like we're out of the woods yet, but if we keep scanning in, follow the public health guidelines and stay connected, we can get through this together.

Paul is the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum's CEO and the former editor of Tech Blog.


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