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The rapid increase of coronavirus cases in the world has urged governments to impose lockdown measures whereby malls, shopping centers, churches, mosques, schools and universities were closed and employees were asked to work remotely until further notice. Against this backdrop, a rapid demand on connectivity has risen which has put telcos in the spotlight.

In order to ease the burden caused by the novel coronavirus and to encourage people to stay at home, telcos all over world announced measures to allow consumers to work and study remotely, and be entertained.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) issued a statement urging telcos to take urgent measures to support the world’s communication needs. ITU secretary general Houlin Zhao said the outbreak showed how “vital information and communication technology networks and services” are to pandemic and disaster management.

Zhao added that “the implementation of comprehensive national emergency telecommunication plans can ensure there is effective and timely sharing of information across all levels of government, within affected communities and among humanitarian agencies to prioritize response efforts and to save lives.”

In the Middle East, operators supported by regulators announced different strategies and measures to support consumers amid this global crisis.

In the UAE, Etisalat launches new initiatives

Etisalat has taken many steps to ensure that its network, services and teams are well equipped to support all its customers. In fact, the operator has recently increased its local network capacity while also boosting its international data capacity to enable all customers with the best possible experience while they, learn, work and get entertained from home.

A wide range of products and services are being offered to customers, including access to remote working apps, remote collaboration tools, zero-rating and whitelisting of educational websites,  free on-demand movies and premium content on eLife, StarzPlay, OSN and Switch TV, free eLife upgrades, and ‘Freedom’ postpaid mobile data promotions, among others. These are designed to provide entertainment to families at home, facilitate uninterrupted distance e-learning, boost employee productivity and ensure seamless business continuity.

In terms of education, Etisalat is working closely with the Ministry of Education and TRA to enable free mobile data for students whose families do not have internet services at home. This is to support distance learning, giving them access to specific applications identified by the ministry. The ministry has prepared a list of eligible students that was shared with Etisalat to provide them with mobile data packages.

In support of the ministry’s initiatives, Etisalat has granted zero-rate access to selected educational URLs, allowing students to have free access on their mobile phones without consuming any data. In addition, all eLife customers can avail free educational content (‘Madrasa’) on their TV screens.

Etisalat has also provided access to remote learning applications (Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard and Zoom) on the fixed network and Microsoft Teams, Blackboard and Zoom on the mobile network.

Etisalat is also supporting businesses to encourage remote working. For a period of three months, businesses can also access for free its online collaboration platform - Etisalat CloudTalk Meeting – to help maintain business continuity by providing a secure platform to collaborate from any device, location, and network in the UAE.

Business operations can remain uninterrupted with Cloudtalk’s unlimited video conferencing and online collaboration sessions without any additional fee for this service. The platform provides state-of-the-art features for meetings and collaborations that help in boosting business productivity and contributes to an elevated user experience.

Etisalat has also announced the launch of ‘Business Edge’, a comprehensive platform offering a wide range of services and solutions that cater to Small and Medium Business (SMB) customers.

This new platform gives access to a comprehensive set of solutions they need to do business digitally, from helping them promote their business online to providing software applications to run their business underpinned by customer insights and analytics.

Salvador Anglada, Group Chief Business Officer, Etisalat, said, “Current times demand that businesses are ready to securely work and collaborate remotely. It also requires the ability to adapt to dynamic business conditions. With Business Edge’s SMBs are able to minimise upfront investments while accessing top services to manage their business according to their needs and utilisation, in a ‘pay as you grow model’.”

The Emirati operator is also focused on keeping its customers entertained, that is why existing elife TV and internet bundle (triple play) customers who chose to move to a new eLife unlimited Plan will receive the upgraded benefits at no extra charge for three months.

The eLife Unlimited plans offer speeds from an incredible 250Mbps more than enough to work-from home and keep everyone streaming their favorite content. Subscribers also have the option to downgrade back to their old plan if they wish for no penalty during this time. 

eLife viewers will be kept entertained with free on demand movies each week for the next six weeks as well as enjoy free StarzPlay for three months with the latest Arabic, Western TV series and movies simply by subscribing on-screen. For customers who want more premium add-on packs “Arabia, Western, Asian or Pinoy” they can also subscribe for free for the first three months. Customers will also receive an entire month of OSN’s El Farq package containing some of the biggest names in entertainment with channels being opened for free viewing for all eLife TV customers.

With Etisalat’s recent launch of a brand-new OTT video service SwitchTV, subscribers can enjoy free premium content such as movies, live TV and on demand movies. The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store, Google Play or the new Huawei App Gallery and is available to all UAE residents regardless of provider.

stc and ITC support consumers in KSA

stc announced that its network is currently witnessing a growth in traffic for education and health platforms that have been made available for free. The demand growth rate for distance education has reached 1000%, while it reached 177% for health platforms. Furthermore, the growth rate for remote work for various sectors has reached more than 567%, not to mention the 70% surge in requests to download different applications for these purposes and others. stc has managed to accommodate this surge in demand without affecting the level of service provided to customers.

stc has also fortified the network infrastructure for the mobile sector and the residential sector to ensure providing home entertainment for all ages.

Eng. Haithem Mohammed Alfaraj, senior VP of technology and operations unit, pointed out that stc succeeded in meeting this unprecedented growth in the numbers of users of its network and the volume of traffic generated on its mobile, and landline networks as well as the networks of the government and business sectors, by making the necessary preparations and fortifying the infrastructure that serves the health and educational sectors in particular, and the remote work sector in general. stc managed to successfully leverage all its technical and human capabilities to serve this purpose and added expansions to many departments at many public and private sectors.

He also stressed that the operator is ensuring that its network is safe from any cyberattacks that might occur due the huge number of data currently being generating. He said, “stc is committed to taking all the precautionary measures to protect its network against any potential cyberattacks by ensuring around the clock monitoring and management, especially with the increase in the number of users that are currently relying on stc’s network for their remote work whether from the government or private sector.”

Integrated Telecom Company (ITC) has also launched an important initiative in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabic to support remote education. In collaboration with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) represented by the Internet Services Unit, ITC increased the capacity of connectivity service between universities and academic bodies to more than 12 GB free of charge.

Through this initiative, ITC and KACST aim to facilitate E-learning and distance education, as part of ITC national and social responsibilities to provide full support to all procedures and precautions done by Saudi Government to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID 19). The initiative also aims to support university students and faculties to improve the quality of the virtual classes and educational platforms and optimize the access to national digital services.

Lebanon boasts double internet speeds, increased mobile data bundles

As soon as the public health emergency was announced in Lebanon, the cabinet decided to double the speed and capacity of the internet for Ogero users until end of April. The decision was made to encourage citizens to stay home amid growing coronavirus concerns.

Furthermore, following the decision of H.E. Talal Hawat, Minister of telecommunications, mobile operators Alfa and touch informed their subscribers that the expiration of their prepaid and postpaid bundles will be extended one month free of charge, given the situation in Lebanon that has forced people to stay at home in order to stop coronavirus from spreading.

Batelco stands with users in Bahrain

Batelco has always been an integral part of the community and takes pride in supporting national initiatives, namely the government’s efforts during this difficult time through enabling free unlimited usage for all fixed internet users.

Batelco has recognised that with students studying from home and employees working remotely and encouraged to stay home, there will be more dependency on the internet to complete transactions online, conduct virtual meetings and e-learning sessions. Therefore, unlimited usage will be a great support for all.

All Batelco’s fixed broadband users will automatically benefit from the unlimited usage starting from 19 March until the end of May.

“We are proud to be part of team Bahrain and in these extraordinary times, Batelco is committed to standing with the government and the community. We remain focused on our vision to empower people, enable businesses and enrich society. Therefore, we have enabled unlimited usage for all our fixed internet users, so they can continue their daily lives with minimum inconvenience and interruptions”, Batelco CEO Mikkel Vinter said.

The telecommunications industry has a very important role to play in this health crisis that has crippled economies. Despite the fact that this pandemic has had costly repercussions on the industry itself, however, it is currently saving what can be saved, for businesses and individuals to be able to resume their regular activities once all of this is over.

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