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COVID-19 is changing how we live, and it looks like some of
those changes may stick. At “Ericsson Unboxed Office,” Ericsson’s virtual event to
sort of make up for the lack of trade shows this year, Singh Sethi, the head of Ericsson’s
ConsumerLab, revealed results from a global survey done by the network equipment provider, and pointed out five ways that changes brought on by COVID-19 could continue into 2021 and
beyond.

Lockdowns have been affecting people differently in
different countries, Sethi said. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Eighty percent of respondents in Spain and India said the impact of the coronavirus on their daily lives
has been “phenomenal,” while only 40 percent of respondents in Sweden and Germany said the same. Spain and India both had very severe lockdowns, while Sweden has been
treated as a model for very lax lockdowns. So what’s going to last, even when the lockdowns lift?

For one thing, broadband will be more important than ever.
Seventy percent of global respondents told Sethi’s team that “resilient connectivity” will
be “very critical,” moving broadband from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” That
may put pressure on ISPs in countries such as the US, where high-quality
broadband is not available or not affordable to a significant percentage of
people.

Singh Sethi, the head of Ericsson’s ConsumerLab

“Autonomous commerce” is going to be big in the upcoming
years, Sethi said. That means ordering through an app, and having products
brought to you through delivery drones or driverless cars. The idea is to
extend contact-free deliveries in a world where people are more nervous about
human contact.

Remote working is going to be “the new normal from here on,”
Sethi said. If that’s the case, I see a bunch of knock-on effects. Crowded
cities with small apartments, such as New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore become
less appealing in a work-from-home world. (I recently did a list of small
and mid-sized cities with affordable housing and gigabit Internet in the US.)

Telemedicine will continue its big boom post-COVID,
according to Sethi’s study. In 2019 in the US, he said only 12 percent of consumers
were even aware of telemedicine as an option. But in his post-COVID survey, he
found that 60 percent of respondents believe online health consultations “will be more
popular than physical visits to the doctor.” A third of the consumers in India
and China in his study were doing health consultations online, he said.

Finally, he’s a proponent of the “virtual experience
economy”—that’s AR and VR. “If you start spending more and more time online,
virtual goods will become much more important to you than physical ownership of
goods, and it will ease isolation,” he said.

This is a controversial view, largely because COVID hasn’t
led to a major uptick in VR usage the way it has with delivery apps and
telemedicine. Analyst Benedict Evans has a well-argued essay where he posits
that VR hardware just isn’t anywhere near where it needs to be for mass appeal. The whole
concept of the heavy, hot head-mounted device is the problem, meaning a device
with broad appeal could be years away.

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