As hundreds of millions of workers around the world find themselves working from home amidst the new reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic, access to next generation connectivity has become even more important than it has ever been in the past.
Connectivity is the lifeline that enables life to continue functioning, even whilst billions of people around the world remain in their homes, to contain the spread of the virus. Without quick, reliable connectivity, distance learning and working from home initiatives would not be possible.
The enormous spike in demand for capacity has placed considerable strain on the telecoms networks that provide our access to that connectivity – both fixed line and mobile.
With operators around the world already rolling out their next generation networks, we have arguably never been better equipped to work and learn from home. Recent innovations in converging technologies such as mobile computing, mobile communications and broadband internet are helping people around the world deal with the new reality of life in the shadow of COVID-19.
Here in the Middle East, particularly, operators and vendors have risen to the challenge of ensuring world class connectivity remains in place, despite the huge logistical and technological challenges being placed on them.
Indeed, the current COVID-19 pandemic has seen vendors and network operators work closer together than ever before, as they strive towards the common good. With the multibillion dollar investments that service providers have made in their next generation network infrastructure, they were already looking to make as fast a return on their investment as possible. With the possibility of challenging market conditions looming large for the foreseeable future, as a result of the economic slowdown bought about by the global Covid19 pandemic, partnerships become all the more important.
Zoran Lazarevic chief technology officer, Ericsson Middle East and Africa said: “During the pandemic, fixed and mobile telecommunications networks have become an even more crucial part of the critical infrastructure, showing the importance of quality in the connectivity. The challenge in the telecommunications industry is to innovate and constantly provide a better experience for our customers. The objective of the collaboration between service providers and Ericsson is to transform their networks and enable them to offer subscribers a service experience that meets the expectations of the digital society in which we currently live. Ericsson is working relentlessly with our partners to ensure network operators can continue to offer world-class connectivity and coverage.”
Here in the UAE
The UAE has positioned itself as a regional and international pioneer for next generation connectivity. The country was one of the first in the world to launch fully commercialised 5G services and the country is home to some of the fastest average download speeds in the world.
As the UAE embarked on its national sanitisation programme, the country’s Telco’s responded by ensuring that citizens and residents in the UAE would continue to receive the cutting edge connectivity that they required.
Etisalat UAE has delivered a range of initiatives that have facilitated connectivity in the country, including helping more than 1 million students in the UAE to continue their education through the COVID-19 pandemic, through its e-learning initiatives and online platforms. The Middle East’s biggest telco has allowed free access to over 800 educational websites, which has helped more than 1 million students continue their education online.
The company’s senior vice president of corporate communications, Dr Ahmed Bin Ali, said that Etisalat remained in an excellent position to deliver cutting edge connectivity to consumers in the UAE during and beyond the current pandemic.
“As we navigate through these challenging times, Etisalat has showed resilience and remained committed towards the communities it serves, ensuring business continuity and readiness, minimising impact on our operations and uninterrupted services to our customers,” he said.
"Etisalat has taken many steps to ensure that its network, services and teams are well equipped to support all its customers. Etisalat teams are working non-stop to make sure that all its customers, including government departments, large enterprises, SMBs and subscribers across the country, stay connected. With overall data traffic on the telco’s network expected to surge exponentially, Etisalat’s advanced network is resilient, reliable and secure and has sufficient flexibility to adapt to changing consumer and business demands. Etisalat offers all the connectivity tools and services people need to continue to communicate and conduct business including the fastest fixed broadband and mobile network in the region.
"Keeping in line with the government directives to encourage citizens to stay at home and be safe in the current scenario. We have made sure that all our resources and technology are used to make customers working and studying from home experience effective and efficient."
The rise of video conferencing services has been instrumental in ensuring that business can flourish in the UAE, as the country’s workforce continues to work from home. The use of video conferencing software and solutions places real demand on telecommunications networks particularly in terms of capacity and download speeds. It’s no use having an online meeting with twenty of your colleagues if they are forced to endure endless buffering and poor voice quality.
To ensure that workers receive next generation connectivity, even during the pandemic, UAE telco du has doubled the speed of its fixed line internet packages, meaning that customers can now access download speeds of 500 Mbps, rather than the 250Mbps service that they pay for.
In response to the continued growth of data consumption on du’s network, which has increased by 200 per cent over the last five years, the telecom operator said it has automatically upgraded its existing customers.
“du is committed to delivering what our home customers demand: faster broadband, personalized TV content, all at the most competitive prices. The new double-speed upgrade ticks these boxes and has been especially designed to cater to the discerning needs of our home customers who aspire to lead digitally enhanced lifestyles which enrich their everyday lives,” said Fahad Al Hassawi, deputy CEO for telco services at du.
In the wider Middle East
In neighbouring Kuwait, connectivity is playing an equally important role in helping the country mitigate against the spread of the virus.
Here, Zain Kuwait partnered with the Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company to bring next generation connectivity to the country’s biggest COVID-19 treatment facility.
“Our collaboration with the Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company (KIPIC) today is nothing but a clear embodiment of the cherished Kuwaiti identity that sees Kuwaitis get together as one during times of crisis. Such partnerships between the oil and private sectors, especially during these times, remind us as organisations and individuals that we are all part of a single family that puts their hands together to protect our home and our people,” said Zain Kuwait’s chief enterprise business officer, Hamad Al-Marzouq.
“I am very proud of the great efforts exerted by Zain’s team to make this partnership a success, especially during such difficult and exceptional circumstances. We were very keen on offering the most advanced essential telecom and networking services and solutions to serve citizens who will reside in the centre, especially our students who were completing their education abroad and came back as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ evacuation plan,” he added.
Across the world
While governments across the world urge their citizens to work from home to contain the spread of the pandemic, operators in developing economies are facing a different set of challenges. Many people in the developing world are unable to do their job from home, particularly if they work in a manual industry. In these circumstances, the role of the telco is to facilitate community outreach programmes and ensure that citizens have access to life saving information and consultative services.
While connectivity and technology alone cannot stop the spread of the pandemic it can play a huge role in educating, warning and empowering those on the ground and those that need to be made aware of the situation to significantly reduce the impact.
To this end, pan African telco, MTN Group, has set up a relief fund, to assist customers affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
MTN Group operates across 21 markets in Africa, all of which have now reported cases of COVID-19. MTN Group is making the fund available in its home market of South Africa as well as in many other markets across Africa, facing enormous challenges managing the pandemic.
The initiative comprises of five key focuses: MTN Group employees, customers, vulnerable groups, contributions to the South African Government’s Solidarity Fund and participating in industry interventions.
“We believe it is the responsibility of all organisations to assist where they can during the pandemic. MTN plays a vital role in the mobile and telecommunications industry across Africa and the Middle East and it is vital that we assist our employees, customers and stakeholders during this difficult time,” said Mcebisi Jonas, chairman of MTN Group.
The Group plans to raise additional funds for the MTN Global Staff Emergency Fund for employees in need.
The funds will be raised by contributions from the Group’s directors, managers and general staff. The chairman, group CEO, group CFO and a number of MTN Group directors have pledged 30 per cent of their board fees and salaries for the next three months. The executive teams of both MTN Group and MTN South Africa have also contributed to the fund. In addition, other staff members can also contribute by making salary sacrifices.
As the world comes to terms with the new reality of life under the COVID-19 pandemic, telcos will continue to play an integral role in delivering the cutting-edge connectivity that is facilitating countless work from home and distance learning initiatives around the world. Moreover, the pandemic will see telcos forging deeper relationships with their suppliers and other industry partners as they look to redefine their business models going forward.