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Coronavirus Impact: Telcos Face A Big Challenge To Keep India Inc Connected

Telecom companies are dealing with an unprecedented challenge, other than COVID-19 — of providing seamless internet services for a smoother work-from-home for India Inc. In a bid to do this at the available capacity, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have said they are doing everything to keep the situation under control. Companies have activated a comprehensive pandemic response plan with requisite risk mitigation protocols for keeping networks working as telecom is an essential service.

It is learnt that Airtel has a full-fledged contingency plan in place to deal with any event. This includes quarantining any of the company’s critical network operating centres and call centres, among others.

The company has enabled each location to operate in a distributed as well as virtual way.

Every team has also been broken into two in order to reduce the number of people on a site and make the workplace safer. The company has started the process of monitoring and managing networks from different locations in case any geography is not accessible for some time. It has also enabled work-from-home for its employees through secure connections.

“Airtel’s networks are in business continuity planning mode and are fully prepared to support any exigency. Our mobile, fixed broadband, DTH and fibre networks are fully geared up to serve customers in the emerging scenario,” said Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer (CTO), Bharti Airtel.

All operations are running smoothly with over 80 per cent employees working from home seamlessly, he said.

A comprehensive pandemic response plan with requisite risk mitigation protocols has been activated while ensuring continuity of mission critical processes for keeping our networks working as telecom is an essential service, Sekhon added.

“We are strictly adhering to the government’s instructions while operating the telecom network uninterruptedly as an essential service during this crisis,” a Vodafone Idea spokesperson told Business Standard.

Vodafone Idea has a litany of flexible work policies that enable flexible working hours, work from home and working from different locations across the organisation. “This has allowed us to respond quickly to the current situation by enabling our workforce to adopt alternative forms of work. Majority of our staff members across offices are working remotely from home,” he said. The firm is also reviewing its business continuity plans across all operations. “Our centralised network monitoring facilities, across multiple locations like Pune and Hyderabad, have been prepared for any kind of emergency evacuation due to the corona threat at any particular building,” Vodafone Idea said.

“Adequate provision has been made to provide resources, enabling work from home for technical teams working across these facilities. This is to enable undisrupted services to our customers 24X7, it added.

All of the company’s enterprise services continue to be monitored through our own network operating centres and operations to ensure business continuity, Vodafone Idea said. The spokesperson added, “We are continuously monitoring the traffic pattern and are confident of handling the growing demand of voice and data services during the lockdown.”

On Monday, the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) asked the Centre to instruct over-the-top players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Zee 5 to take steps for easing the pressure on network infrastructure. This pressure is due to increased demand for online video streaming, amid lockdown and quarantine measures.

COAI has also approached streaming platforms, cautioning them about surge in digital use, thus straining network infrastructure of telecom operators. It urged companies to take urgent steps like temporarily switching to SD (standard definition) from HD (high definition) streaming, removing high bandwidth- consuming advertisements and pop ups, and replacing them with public announcements on awareness regarding the virus.

In a letter to the telecom department secretary, COAI has said, “Due to lockdown and quarantine measures in parts of the country, a sudden surge in demand for online video streaming is also expected.”

COAI said that during this crucial time, it is absolutely essential for the streaming platforms to cooperate with telecom providers so as to manage the traffic distribution patterns that are likely to strain the network infrastructure “at a time when it is needed for various critical requirements.”

Sources said that data consumption in the last few days has gone up by 15-20 per cent and consumption of HD data requires 6-7 times higher bandwidth.

Therefore, companies have requested the government to intervene and mandatorily ask people to switch to standard definition, the way countries like the US have done in the current scenario.

—Business Standard

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