There’s no question at this point that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to have a major economic impact on the world. With that comes the question of how new and emerging technologies will be impacted as well. The temptation is to think that everyone will suffer due to supply chain disruptions, work stoppages, and other issues. But that’s not the case across the board.
For some technologies, this pandemic will be more of a growth opportunity than a setback. But which ones?
5G – A Question of Infrastructure vs. Devices
Despite outlandish conspiracy theories that 5G is somehow the cause of the novel coronavirus, rollouts of 5G shouldn’t see a significant slowdown. Speaking at the recent ABI Tech Summit, Dimitris Mavrakis, a research director at ABI Research said the challenges facing 5G in the crisis have more to do with personnel than supply chain. “Engineers and technicians cannot visit sites because of restrictions,” he said. These sorts of restrictions could show delays in installations of small cells and other new equipment needed for 5G.
COVID-19 however has created an increase in WiFi and cellular traffic for a number of reasons, which Mavrakis believes will only fuel the fire of demand for 5G going forward. Still, he expects 5G rollouts to be back on track after June 2020 and should pick up in 2021.
There could be delays on the consumer device end however. “There was an assumption the smartphone market would grow because of consumer upgrades and replacements, and the rapid migration to 5G driven by consumer eagerness,” ABI research director David McQueen said.
Rollouts of 5G smartphones have already been feeling pressure from the ongoing trade war between the US and China, which has seen products from Huawei banned in the US. The pandemic has also piled on additional supply chain issues on top of this that could result in delays from the first 5G smartphones from major brands like Apple and Samsung.
Blockchain – A New Kind of Investment
The prospect of a COVID-19-related surge in the market has cryptocurrency investors salivating over Bitcoin right now. But blockchain, the technology behind all cryptocurrencies, has an opportunity to demonstrate its worth in the wake of COVID-19 as well.
One particular opportunity comes in blockchain’s ability to help automate supply chains. As companies look to leverage more automation to help alleviate supply chain disruptions, blockchain’s ability to create secure, decentralized, smart contracts offers company’s a way to automate some of their processes without having to worry about taking on new security risks.
“Industries that are working on blockchain in supply chain will most likely stall their efforts,” Indira Mysore, Director of Healthcare Community Development at the Austin Blockchain Collective, told Design News. “With COIVID-19, China has become the single point of global supply chain failure. No country or company planned for this single point of failure. COVID-19 will force companies to re-imagine their global supply chain, spread their risk and not make any country their single point of failure.”
Mysore is a member of the healthcare working group of the Government Blockchain Association (GBA), a non-profit working to connect public and private sector developers to create blockchain solutions for government applications. She believes that the current crisis is pointing to a need to reinvent the supply chain model. And blockchain could play a key role in that. “ Blockchain might fit the bill here, as the new [supply chain] model will require close collaboration and data sharing among ecosystem partners to respond swiftly, when such a disaster strikes again.”
Blockchain’s major benefit has always been its enhanced levels of security compared to more traditional methods. As cybersecurity attacks are spiking in the wake of COVID-19, more companies and institutions may be looking at blockchain as a means to shore up and improve their own security against future attacks. There likely won’t be a huge immediate investment, but longer-term more companies may be looking at blockchain as a means to be prepared if another crisis arises in the future.
“The rampant spread of COVID-19 has accelerated humanity’s urgent efforts to contain it; within those efforts, the inefficiencies of our data handling processes and systems across many industries have been drawn in sharp relief,” Marquis Allen, fellow GBA member and a blockchain solutions developer and entrepreneur told Design News. “The promise of efficiency, transparency, security, and immutability in data transactions using blockchain have interested many industry leaders, and I think many new efforts will be undertaken to ultimately adopt the innovation.”
As part of the healthcare working group of the GBA, Allen sees the healthcare sector in particular as being able to benefit from blockchain.
“The healthcare sector could improve efficiency and attain critical transparency in its materials management practices – a process that has been sorely tested in the wake of supply shortages of medical supplies and personal protective equipment used to combat the coronavirus,” Allen said. “Supply chain management in agriculture and manufacturing have seen great success in implementing blockchain solutions to track and trace the transport and delivery of goods securely, and in a nigh-tamperproof way; this provides a solid proof of concept for healthcare to follow suit.”