*This is a follow up to yesterday’s article in which I gave an overview of the current telecoms landscape following the global COVID-19 pandemic.
What can be learned from the experience so far and how can operators, regulators and other stakeholders ensure that networks keep running and everyone is able to be connected?
The points below could hopefully help operators, regulators and policy-makers who may currently be struggling to respond to the current situation, suggest some ideas for plans to the lucky ones that still have time to prepare, and inspire those who already demonstrated proactive action to help others.
- Operators everywhere should consider contractual relief to their customers, possibly beefed up with some international call packages to and from the most affected countries. Zero rating for certain applications (e.g., specific information portals providing information on COVID-19 as Vodafone has committed to do) might be considered.
- Regulators (in collaboration with the industry) should be prepared to act rapidly to relieve capacity bottlenecks – e.g., following FCC’s example, assign additional spectrum (where necessary, borrowing it from other market players). Potential downstream bottlenecks might also need to be addressed – e.g., through emergency procedures to coordinate access to wholesale capacity. International collaboration might be needed to address bottlenecks beyond the jurisdiction of access network country regulators – especially in cases of small country operators with predominantly overseas traffic pattern relying on expensive Internet transit, rather than peering, services.
- Traffic shaping might need to be considered to manage the network load. Verizon as well as Telecom Italia report that a significant proportion of the traffic spike consists of video gaming (75 percent week-on-week increase in the US). This is, of course, subject to applicable net neutrality rules.
- National industry-wide coordination mechanisms should be instituted, for coordination of network management during the crisis. Again, Australia provides a good example of this.
- Consumer guidance, based on country specific circumstances, should be provided, on how to ensure that best quality connectivity is available during the quarantine – not only for a specific user, but for everyone. UK Ofcom and France’s ARCEP have produced examples of guidelines for consumers. ‘Ten Commandments’ on the responsible Internet use from the Greek Government present an example of a ‘common sense’ guidance of how to maximize the availability of networks for everyone. Among other things, it aims to steer the traffic towards fixed / WiFi over mobile networks.
- Telecom operators need to have clear crisis-time operational plans, protecting their own employees as much as possible while ensuring that staff is able to safely address network issues, including in premises of self-isolating customers. As operator shops get closed, they naturally would have to be prepared for much higher traffic through their digital channels and call centers.
- Emergency telecommunications plans should be put in place – and where they are in place, reviewed for their adequacy for the circumstances – instituting clear traffic prioritization rules and ensuring that emergency services and coordination bodies are equipped with resilient “off-grid” communications, such as satellite communication devices.
- Real-time global sharing of experiences and emerging best-practices. In addition to examples referred to above, operators and regulators around the world are making decisions to address the situation every day. It is important to enable quick learning for countries which may be affected later.
The list above is definitely not complete and all of the points may not work for everyone. But in any case, this is the time for an action.
*Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.
Photo by: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
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