COVID-19 has drastically changed every sphere of our lives, including business, education, healthcare, socializing, leisure and travel. As governments have implemented a wide range of policy responses to manage the impact of the virus, a unifying theme emerging from every country has been the importance of mobile connectivity.
The foundation of mobile connectivity is the network of communication masts and towers, most of which are provided by independent tower companies (TowerCos). TowerCos lease space on their towers to multiple mobile network operators (MNOs), who place their own network equipment on them to provide their services to consumers and businesses. This model of shared use reduces the overall investment and operating costs for MNOs, enabling them to deliver faster network rollout in more locations, improve coverage, reduce consumer prices, and raise service quality.
This paper assesses the contribution that TowerCos have made during the COVID-19 crisis and considers the policy responses various countries have implemented to ensure the smooth and continuous operations of telecommunications services. We identify important lessons from the perspective of TowerCos that are particularly relevant to governments and regulators in how they continue to manage the current crisis, as well as how they plan for future ones.
Lesson 1: TowerCos are the foundation of mobile connectivity – a vital role often unnoticed and undervalued by governments and regulators.
Lesson 2: Governments need to put in place specific measures to support critical passive telecommunications infrastructure in preparation for future unforeseen events, such as COVID-19.
Lesson 3: Agile frameworks and streamlined regulation deliver the best outcomes in both normal and crisis periods.
Lesson 4: Digital transformation and e-government services are key to long-term resilience.
Lesson 5: Concerns about health impacts of wireless technology need to be actively addressed and anticipated.
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