I would like to recognise the contributions that mobile operators around the world are making to help their communities meet the unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing robust and secure connectivity to individuals, businesses and governments has never been of greater importance.
Mobile operators have been pioneers in acting ethically and responsibility in the digital age – and we’re proud that the mobile industry was the first sector in the world to commit to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016. Response to COVID-19 not only advances SDG #3 (Good Health), but addresses many of the other wide-ranging ramifications of the pandemic.
At a time when we are facing ‘lockdown’ in many of our communities, a mobile connection can be the only way to stay in touch with loved ones or the only channel for a business to connect with its customers.
Mobile operators all over the world are being pro-active. They are reaching out to their customers and working with governments to provide a range of vital services for citizens at this challenging time. Operators are also exploring how to leverage their big data capabilities to help monitor and limit the spread of the disease.
Work is being done in several key areas:
Ensuring network stability – Networks will inevitably feel the strain as a result of a surge in activities now conducted online, notably via large numbers of people suddenly working from home. Vodafone, for example, has noted a data traffic increase of as much as 50 per cent in some markets. Operators are investing in added capacity in order to ensure their networks remain as robust and secure as ever, and in markets such as the US are being given access to additional spectrum.
Disseminating vital information – The ability to keep citizens up to date with the latest advice, and prevent the spread of ‘fake’ news, is vital in fast-developing situations. Operators are working with governments to deliver timely information directly to mobile devices.
Connecting vital services – In a global health emergency, connecting health centres and hospitals is an absolute priority, enabling services such as remote diagnostics and telemedicine. It is expected that regulations will be relaxed in some markets to make clear that operators can ensure that connectivity for emergency services is prioritised.
Helping with financial hardship – Operators are offering a range of solutions to those suddenly facing financial problems: these include flexible payment options, the lifting or extending of data caps to enable increased usage, free public wi-fi, and more. Many are also working with their smaller suppliers, who may also be facing liquidity issues. A number of operators in developing markets have introduced zero rating of mobile money transaction charges and expansion of transaction and mobile account limits.
Helping working from home – As well as a secure connection, many workers need additional tools and support in order to work from home. Operators are providing productivity tools, for example free conference calling software and training plans, to support home working. And many are providing additional content and services for stay-at-home children too.
Leveraging the power of mobile big data – The use of mobile big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) has a key role to play in monitoring and containing disease outbreaks. There are several such projects currently underway involving operators working with national authorities to use aggregated and anonymised movement data to anticipate the spread of the coronavirus. The GSMA’s AI for Impact team is working with members on sharing knowledge, best practice and privacy policies in this area to help operators maximise their contribution at this time.
It’s encouraging to see mobile operators playing a key role in helping the world navigate through these challenging times. This is a fast-moving situation and the GSMA is doing what it can to keep our members up-to-date. Mobile World Live has a live blog capturing all the latest coronavirus-related developments impacting our industry.
In summary, the mobile industry has never been more important to the world’s citizens and the global economy than it is today. Our role at the GSMA is to unlock the power of connectivity so that people, industry and society are able to thrive, and we will continue to play a leading role in supporting and amplifying the important work our industry is doing at this time.