The Rebuild

Going Digital and the Role of Canadian Telecom in a Post-COVID Future

As the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis continues to unfold across Canada, Canadians and Canadian businesses alike are transitioning toward the digital economy faster than ever before. As Canadians increasingly move toward consuming more services online, working remotely, and adopting emerging technologies highly dependent on data, it is important that Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure is affordable, accessible, and up to date. Gaps persist in access across provinces, most starkly between rural and urban communities. Policies that strive to close these gaps are critical, as are next-generation technologies that will drive economic and labour market growth. In today’s increasingly digital world, strong telecommunications infrastructure is key.

Section I of this paper examines the current state of telecom services in Canada, including data consumption trends compared to OECD peer nations, internet penetration across Canada and between provinces, and the extent to which internet use has changed during the COVID-19 crisis.

Section II outlines the potential technological needs and opportunities in post-COVID Canada, with telecommunications infrastructure at the core. Internet-connected sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) can form the bedrock of numerous smart applications, and Low-Power Wide-Area Networks can act as low-cost connectivity solutions to service some of these developments. At the same time, a variety of other innovations will rely on the inherent strengths and unique attributes of 5G mobile. This section concludes with the value proposition of coupling 5G with emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (ARVR), as they shape the next generation of digital services. Digital health solutions, autonomous vehicles and drones, and lights-out manufacturing are just a few examples of 5G’s value proposition in a fully connected future.

Finally, Section III dives into the future of work for Canadians. COVID-19 has accentuated and accelerated the adoption of many existing opportunities, namely the shift toward large-scale remote work. Technology firms around the world have announced a permanent transition toward partial or universal remote work. These include the American FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) as well as Canadian giants like Shopify. Many others are expected to follow in their footsteps. In May 2020, Transport Canada also became the first federal department to make its COVID-inspired remote work policy a permanent fixture. For these organizations and many others, telework is no longer the exception but the norm. Taking this digital-first reality into account, renewed efforts to close the digital divide in Canada are underway, with access, equity, and affordability comprising core priorities.

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The Digital Think Tank by ICTC is the research and policy arm of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

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