As remote-work, education, events and hospitality services become a mainstay, how can costs and funding be managed? Here are some trends.

Remote-learning, work-from-home setups and remote-attendance of special events all made network infrastructure more important in 2021: a trend that will continue this year.

Initially, quickly setting up and maintaining the robust network access and connectivity needed to facilitate remote activities amid the continuing pandemic was a challenge. This year, with that challenge mostly reigned in, the emphasis will be on continuing to enhance the remote experience.

Here is a closer look at how digital technology and connectivity will facilitate better experiences for four sectors—Education, Work, Events, and Hospitality—this year, and how the long-term costs of continual digitalization are being defrayed through technology and expanded sources of sustainable funding.

  • Digital learning in the classroom
    The ideal vision is for every classroom and lecture hall to accommodate hybrid-learning environments that are equally engaging for in-person and remote students alike.

    To support this kind of intensive connectivity, there is a movement toward converged networks, where digital learning networks; in-building cellular; the switching and cabling plant; and IoT systems—all come together and force IT and operational technology departments to collaborate as never before.

    Some facilities will decide to converge networks for higher efficiency, while others will continue to maintain separate networks for control.

    To address the digital divide between public educational institutions (with limited funding for digital initiatives) and private schools (better funded), a trend is emerging for technology vendors to provide consultation and leads for identifying and sourcing alternative forms of investments for educational infrastructure projects.

    At the university level, this problem divides students who can pay full tuition and those who need to finance their school fees through extracurricular commitments.

    To stay competitive, universities are focusing on hybrid learning programs and delivering a student-centric campus experience, to attract and retain students of various financial backgrounds.

    With digitalization, some universities would reduce traditional investments in developing more building facilities or hiring more staff, and invest in e-learning platforms to provide equitable experiences to a wider cohort of learners. In addition, the prices of online courses are also becoming more competitive.
  • The perimiterless workplace
    Many workers are beginning to like teleworking over commuting to the office every day. Employers are embracing these workstyles to gain higher productivity at lower costs. For example, companies are reassessing their investments in new real estate or reconfiguring existing office space for ad hoc workstyles.

    Employers need to know how people are using (or not using) work spaces so that they can reallocate physical resources. New offices will be designed to be easily reconfigurable to accommodate changes in employee preferences.

    The overall goal is for organizations to get better real-estate returns on investments as well as to give employees reasons to enjoy convening in their workplace as needed.

    Many companies have started to see success by hosting special in-person events, for example, and remote employees often see these as networking opportunities that attract them to the office.

    Even in an ever-remote world, however, it is an overreaction for companies to completely do away with physical real estate, as offices are vital in creating and maintaining a company’s culture—even if the purposes and utility of such premises have evolved beyond traditional ideas of a physical workspace.
  • Connectivity for event arenas
    For public sporting facilities, the challenge is to increase activations, which is the number of times a facility is ‘activated’ for non-sports events like concerts and shows.

    With the average household TV screen getting bigger and with home viewing experiences becoming ever more comfortable and popular, public venues need to enrich the onsite experience.

    Some venues are already expanding their scope of mixed-use facilities such as the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, India. It not only has a capacity for 160,000 spectators, but also accommodates disparate amenities such as an Olympic-sized pool; badminton and tennis courts; squash and table tennis areas; a 3D projector theater; and a clubhouse with 50 private rooms.

    Going forward, venues will strive to elevate visitor experiences by enhancing convenience through touchless ticketing and concessions; providing online information on congestion at concession stands or bathrooms; and automating checks of visitors’ infection statuses. Venues will constantly share information with their visitors, as well as stream video to remote fans.

    In terms of the network connectivity required, venues will look harder at self-funded options such as Wi-Fi 6. For years the trend had been to let mobile operators or neutral hosts deploy systems to enhance mobile coverage. However, self-funding looks more feasible over the longer term. Vendors can help in this transition by advising venue owners about funding and operational models.

    Many venues will not deploy new networking equipment unless they can clearly understand how it will be funded and operated.
  • Digitalizing the hospitality industry
    Hotels are looking at new ways to make their facilities more attractive to the limited volumes of guests that get to travel amid the pandemic.

    Additionally, the industry now competes with public venues for hosting meetings. To stay ahead of the competition, hotels are deploying faster and more pervasive Wi-Fi systems, subsidizing connectivity and adding digital assets like large-screen TVs to attract more business.

    In addition, hotels are working to become more efficient through digital technology. Electronic door locks are now commonplace, and larger properties have Internet Protocol telephone systems that offer online room service ordering, concierge services and other amenities.

    To rein-in the costs, hotels converging onto IP networks for guest internet access and back-of-the-house systems to attain greater cost-sustainability for guest services and applications.

    There is also a heightened interest in security, with hotels adopting SD-WANs to address real concerns around cyberattacks.

    All of these streamlined upgrades and cost management mechanisms are enabling large hotel management companies to compete for brand loyalty and protect their investments over time.

    As for infrastructure, hotels are looking to mobile operators to scale their macro networks while leveraging Wi-Fi for in-building connectivity.