Interview with Arun Gopinath Project Manager at a leading MNC

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives and processes personally and professionally for people across the globe. With few signs of the virus relenting and a vaccine still months if not years away, the world is realising that one needs to learn to live with it - stay calm and carry on

Interestingly, certain sectors of the society and the economy seem to have adapted to the restrictions successfully so far taking the inconveniences in their stride. And lessons learned in the last few months from such experiments can lay the foundation for life post covid 19.

One such observation is the way that the Information Technology industry has reacted to the crisis. The rapid pace of digitisation, cloudification of data and networks, and ubiquity of the smart phone have suddenly made  IT/ITes companies to realise that they can still continue going about doing their business with 90% of their workforce working from home. Companies which insisted on their employees coming to the office everyday and be present in the daily stand up meetings have figured out that standups can be conducted via Webex and Zoom, your availability status on Skype marks your attendance and you have one less excuse to give for coming late - caught in traffic. In fact some companies are seeing an increase in productivity - with time lost due to commute and coffee breaks converted to gains with increased code crunching. So much so that Google and Facebook have announced that they will let their employees work from home till early 2021.

With over half the population of the world already having access to the internet, several other sectors are also realising that they can conduct their businesses without needing their employees to be physically present in the place of work. Take schools and universities for example. Already the courser as and the udemies of the world had signalled a tectonic shift in the way education was being delivered - covid has rapidly accelerated the online mode of working. With the webcam acting as the recorder and the invigilator, teachers are realising that they can continue teaching, and whats more, teach perhaps with greater efficiency - automating tasks like checking attendance, evaluating quizzes and recording lessons for replay.

The healthcare sector has been able to continue with its activities too - with medical professionals being able to do routine consultation online with the camera doubling up as a torch to view your throat and tools like the blood pressure monitor and sugar level test strips aiding the analysis. 

With advances in telecommunications offering high speeds and negligible latency, several other sectors like finance and banking are realising that life can go on - perhaps without the human touch but with the same degree of professionalism and quality of service.

To be sure, there are several facets of life that cannot operate on purely the online mode. Travel, hospitality and infrastructure sectors will need to completely overhaul their operations to manage the disruption - some sectors may fall on the wayside as well. But for the others, with a strong telecom backbone, stay calm, turn the WiFi on and carry on seems to be the playbook for the next couple of years.

## India has adopted 4G (or the 4th Generation technology) which allows downloads of upto 100 Mb/s (mega bits per second) - this is what is allowing you to watch movies on Netflix on your mobile, youtube videos, and allowing SW engineers to connect to their office networks . Speeds of 100 Mbps are good for audio/video streaming and making conference calls with multiple participants with quite good quality
But now with the sudden boom in the usage when everyone is on the net, there will be need to scale up these networks and also provide even better services. And thats where the next generation of technology called 5G is coming. 5G commercial networks have just started rolling out but the pace of the rollout has gathered big momentum in markets like the US, Korea, Japan and China.

With 5G the bandwidth speeds are 10x that of 4G (ie speeds of 1 Gigabit/s), and latency as low as 1 millisecond, which means the annoying lags in your whatsapp call,  the irritating jitters/freezes on your favourite netflix videos will be eliminated

India should get on the 5G wagon as soon as possible

2. Which are the sectors of the economy that can work digitally?
##Already the IT/ITes sector is working digitally - but actually there is no limit and almost all sectors can work at least partially digitally
Sectors like Finance/Banking, Education, Publishing, Media have already adopted massive digitization. Healthcare, Entertainment, 
Transportation, Government services can adopt digitization to a significant degree (eg pay bills online, book your shows and 
travel options online, telemedicine)

3. Some sectors cannot really adapt to a digitised world...like say tourism, but they have – telemedicine, is one that comes to my mind. How do you think the legal profession can work in a digital space and what infrastructure is needed for that? Consider that senior lawyers – given the intellectual domain that the legal profession is – flourish far better than the junior / younger generation of legal professions, designing the IT infrastructure for the legal fraternity will certainly call for thinking out of the box. The geriatric lot of legal fraternity are very vulnerable to COVID 19 too, so attending the courts is not a reckoning at all.  Your comments will be critical here.
## Legal profession can greatly benefit from digitisation. Millions of undertrials havent had a hearing in years because its not possible
to assign a lawyer, schedule their commute from jail to court, etc. A lot of this delay can be minimised with video hearings, online hiring of
lawyers, crowdfunding fees for example - can all be done online
Judges and lawyers can avoid scheduling conflicts, avoid traffic issues etc through video hearings. Case data can be digitised
eliminating human errors and automating routine manual procedures
These are just some thoughts from a layman. My friend was talking of an app that shows him the status and details of his case online
4. Tourism – needs onsite presence, but can IT / ITES render virtual tourism – (ideally for the armchair tourist) so to say... how can tourism be rendered digital / cloudified? Your comments on virtual tourism please. Make it short bouncy sentences with a maximum of 12 – 15 words per sentence! With your grip of writing that will be very powerful messaging.

## of course. Why dont you take a look at the British Museum in London
See what I mean ?
5. Will bionics / robotics replace e commerce delivery? What real life infrastructure improvement is necessary for this scenario?
## Robotics will become an essential part of commerce but I see it more as complementing e-commerce
Already companies like Amazon use robots in a big way for efficient and error free warehousing tasks (sorting, stacking, weighing etc)
Again, we need power of technology like 5G which can make communication to robots instantaneous, coupled with Artificial Intelligence
and Machine Learning software that can be programmed so that the robots can refer a million of recorded instances and then respond
to a new instance based on the closest fit from the memory

6. Please try and get me official statistics of internet penetration in India... can I get worldwide stats for internet penetration / efficacy somewhere on say a UN website?
Check out wikipedia for global data 

Here's another site

For india, check out Dept Of Telecom India - you can down load the report on telecom penetration from here

Most of the reliable reports though are paid ones 

7.What kind of internet bandwidth and speeds are necessary for achieving a clouded or digitised economy so to say?
Like said the present 4G already offers a lot of good bandwidth and more than 80% of India is on 4G thanks to the
Reliance Jio effect. 
But if we want to go even further and support even more specialised operations like self driven cars, robotic high
precision surgery, even more superior quality of streaming, then we need to go to 5G

8. How far away from this ideal bandwidth is India in at present?
# 5G is the next big thing - but it needs significant investments from the operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio
Now these players have yet to recover their 4G investments, and the recent SC ruling on the AGR issue has left
them with huge liablities running to tens of thousands of crores.
So they do not have the money to invest.
Also, the 5G spectrum is not auctioned yet - those license fees also will run into billions of rupees in investment
Until this issue is settled, 5G will not take off in India and we may need to wait for 3-4 years
Hopefully the Govt realises the importance of the topic, and steps in with some stimulus for the Telecom industry
that can catapult India to the big league in the 21st century

The 20th century was the era of transportation. I think the 21st century will be the era of High End Telecommmunication

8. How far away from this ideal bandwidth is India in at present?
# 5G is the next big thing - but it needs significant investments from the operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio
Now these players have yet to recover their 4G investments, and the recent SC ruling on the AGR issue has left
them with huge liabilities running to tens of thousands of crores.
So they do not have the money to invest.
Also, the 5G spectrum is not auctioned yet - those spectrum license fees also will run into billions of rupees in investment
Until this issue is settled, 5G will not take off in India and we may need to wait for 1-2 years
The govt actually had plans for some trials this year, but we need to see if they will still happen

due to covid

Arun Gopinath, SW industry professional, works in an MNC. Thoughts and opinions are personal

Interviewed by Malini Shankar, for Digital Discourse Foundation 

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