Pandemic response in action: Vodafone’s initiatives to combat COVID-19

This is the fourth post in a blog series highlighting the efforts that mobile network operators have taken to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective markets.

Vodafone has extensive experience in connectivity, convergence and the Internet of Things, as well as championing mobile financial services and digital transformation in emerging markets. Today, the company has mobile operations in 22 countries, partners with mobile networks in 42 more, and provides fixed broadband in 17 markets. Across operations, the business has been spearheading initiatives to help combat COVID-19 – from setting up calls centres; leveraging big data and AI to help predict the spread of the virus; supporting services for e-learning;  to supporting governments and donating money and in-kind support to those most in need.

In this interview Vodafone’s Group External Affairs Director, Joakim Reiter, takes stock of the past six months and shares some key lessons to date dealing with the pandemic. He also reflects on the changing mindsets of customers regarding the increasingly important role of mobile connectivity across every aspect of life.

GSMA: What have been the biggest lessons that you have learned?

Joakim Reiter: If there’s one thing we have learned from the crisis, it’s how important robust, secure and reliable digital services are in keeping our societies and economies alive.

For Vodafone, the crisis highlighted our ability to move fast to meet the critical needs of society. More people were working and socialising from home, which led to a 50% increase in data traffic. We had to move fast to ensure we could meet that demand with no service disruption. We accelerated network investments and moved 95% of all Vodafone employees from office based working to remote working within 2 weeks. These dramatic changes opened up new opportunities in how we serve our customers.   

GSMA: What are you most proud of in terms of your response to date?

Joakim Reiter: There are three areas I’m particularly proud of in Vodafone’s response to date. First, delivering connectivity with no disruption to our networks at a time when society needed it most required immense, sustained effort from everyone at Vodafone. We enabled critical health services, online education, businesses to remain operational and people to stay connected.

Second, Vodafone set out its five-point plan in March which explained how we will support our customers, colleagues and communities during this rapidly evolving situation. Our focus was to deliver critical digital infrastructures and to maintain connectivity for essential health and government services across our markets. We deployed eHealth, eLearning, and remote working solutions for our customers at scale. We helped governments and health authorities reach out to citizens with essential information and services. This included connectivity for hospitals in Egypt, Italy, Romania and the UK, and apps to tackle the virus across Sub-Saharan Africa. We also pioneered the use of AI and big data to help track the movement of the virus.

Finally, across Europe and Africa we offered vulnerable customers extra support and contributed donations of money and benefits in kind valued at €100m. This included free connectivity for health services and vulnerable groups, and free data, minutes and television for key workers. In addition, Vodafone Foundation contributed €10m to support those most in need during the crisis.

GSMA: Do you think the perceptions (of customers &/or development or humanitarian partners) of the role of connectivity during crises has changed in the past few months? In what way?

Joakim Reiter: During the crisis, we heard from customers, governments and our communities how appreciative they were of Vodafone’s response and support. People are no longer thinking of connectivity as a ‘nice to have’, but as critical infrastructure for society. The services that we provide keep everyone connected and the value of those services for families, businesses, healthcare, education, and emergency services is clearer now more than ever.  

In forthcoming posts, we will share responses from other GSMA mobile operator members to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective markets.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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