Industry steps up to support global Covid-19 response



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As with other sectors, the telecoms, data and tech industries have faced huge disruptions over recent weeks, from Nokia’s cancelled AGM to the postponement of France’s 5G network auction and Samsung’s Foundry Forum.

However, it’s still business as usual and stakeholders from across the industry have been quick to react to the unfolding crisis with a series of customer relief packages, as well as charitable donations and support for government services.

In Canada, telcos Rogers, Bell, Telus, Videotron, Freedom Mobile, Eastlink and SaskTel, will send subscribers who are currently abroad text messages containing consular support information and key contact information.

“Many Canadians abroad are currently relying on uninterrupted service from Canada’s telecommunications service providers to access consular services. I am pleased that the measures announced today will contribute to the Government of Canada’s ongoing efforts to assist Canadians abroad during this difficult and critical period,” said minister of foreign affairs, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne.

Meanwhile, in the US Verizon received emergency government permission for additional spectrum to handle demand surges. Further, customer late fees will be waived and the data plan on the Verizon Innovative Learning program for Title 1 middle schools will be upgraded from 10GB/month to 30GB/month for the next two months, effective March 16.

Tech giants

Collectively, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook have lost $1.3 billion in stock value since their last market peak back in February. However, each has pledged to support the global response to Covid-19. 

Google was one of the first in the crisis to implement remote working and while headlines of late have focused on its Covid-19 testing and triage website, its core focus is on providing accurate and reliable information. 

The Google homepage is promoting “do the five”, reminding people to wash their hands, cough into their elbow, isolate, social distance and refrain from touching their face. 

Youtube’s homepage is being used to direct people to the CDC and other health authorities and Google Flights has a special webpage to help stranded travellers return home.

In a blog published on 15 March, CEO of Google and Alphabet Sundar Pichai wrote: “For 21 years, Google’s mission has been to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Helping people get the right information to stay healthy is more important than ever in the face of a global pandemic like Covid-19”

Facebook, which has pledged $20 million, will reportedly give $1,000 to each member of its global workforce as its offices around the world remain closed. 

Apple has so far pledged $15 million to fight the outbreak and will match employee donations “two-to-one”. Many of its stores around the world remain closed. 

Amazon is to employ an additional 100,000 people in the US, with further targets for its other global markets. The drive will prioritise those who have lost their jobs in sectors such as hospitality and retail. 

The latest announcement from the Gates Foundation confirmed that it is to donate “up to $100 million” in addition to spearheading the “initiative to speed development and access to therapies”. The foundation will donate up to $50 million to this fund, while partners Wellcome will contribute $50 million and the Mastercard Impact Fund will donate $25 million. 


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UKCloud

In the United Kingdom, public sector cloud provider UKCloud has made a five-point pledge to keep critical services running in collaboration with the government. These cover:

  • Supporting dynamic risk assessments by providing education, reassurance and readiness statements.
  • Reallocating capacity to on-demand cloud services which can be used by public sector organisations to host citizen-facing and patient-centric services which reduce the need for in-person interactions
  • Supporting technologically secure remote working for health professionals, civil servants and other public sector workers
  • Provision of skilled and vetted specialists for “short-term staff augmentation or outcome-based project engagements”.
  • Stress testing to cope with disaster recovery, ‘burst’ capacity, and multi-agency collaboration

“As the implications of the coronavirus become clearer, we undertook a rapid risk assessment which determined the potential need for additional capacity based on the increased demand for our existing and new services,” said Erik Bjontegard,  president and founder of Spark Compass UK

“In contrast with traditional on-premises IT environments, cloud services provided by UKCloud are inherently elastic and better suited to dynamic and unpredictable demands such as those caused by this coronavirus outbreak.” Bjontegard added.

Cisco

Cisco has seen a seven-fold increase in adoption of its Webex collaboration platform in countries affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. In response Cisco is providing free Webex and security technologies to any organisation – ensuring that newly remote workforces can stay up and running

Chintan Patel, chief technologist for Cisco UK and Ireland, said: “While there is no replacement for meeting face-to-face and being in the same room as a colleague or customer, video meetings are proven to be more effective than voice calls. In fact, 93% of employees say video calls improve interactions and client relationships. It’s a simple thing, but seeing someone’s face as well as hearing their voice can be invaluable to remote workers.”

ServiceNow

ServiceNow has announced a Customer Care Program to support public and private sector organisations in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. ServiceNow has released four new apps that will be free of charge until 30 September.  ServiceNow is also making donations to the International Medical Corps and the CDC Foundation totaling $100,000 to help fund supplies for key workers.

  • Emergency Outreach
  • Emergency Self Report
  • Emergency Exposure Management
  • Emergency Response Operations app for government agencies

Vodafone

Vodafone has released a five-point plan, outlining its pledge to customers over the coming months. All new measures will remain in place until 1 September.

Nick Read, chief executive of Vodafone Group Plc, said: “Through our networks, and our dedicated team, we will strive to ensure that people stay connected to their family and friends, businesses can continue to run using remote working, our health services get all the support we can deliver and students are able to continue their education virtually. 

“Whilst still putting the health and safety of our teams first, using our remote working technology, our teams are working round the clock to ensure that we deliver on this plan. I want to personally thank them all for providing this critical service for our customers,” he added.

The plan covers:

1) Maintaining the quality of service of networks

2) Providing network capacity and services for critical government functions

3) Improving dissemination of information to the public

4) Facilitating working from home and helping the small and micro businesses within our Supply Chain

5) Improving governments’ insights into people’s movements in affected areas

Comcast

In the US, Comcast is offering free Wifi hotspots with no data caps, disconnects or late fees and speeds will increase to 3 Mbps. The provider has also “paused enforcement” of its data caps.

Ring VPN

Virtual private network, RingVPN, has announced it will be providing free VPN access for 90 days, helping millions of Brits who are preparing to spend weeks or even months in self-isolation.

Chief marketing officer Cian McKenna-Charley, said: “We understand millions of people will be taking the necessary precautionary measures of working from home, social distancing and, if necessary, self- isolation. Businesses and staff face an uncertain time and we’d rather not add to their anxieties, but instead do what we can to help make life that little bit easier. By making RingVPN free for all, people can use the internet safely and securely from their own home at no expense until normality is resumed.”

Cyber Risk Aware

As cyber criminals take the opportunity to access vulnerable networks, Cyber Risk Aware is offering free Covid-19 Phishing Tests to help businesses defend their network against increased cyber threats during this Coronavirus pandemic period. It is also providing a free “Cyber Security Outside the Office” course to help strengthen all points of entry. 

“At a time when businesses and individuals are more vulnerable, many working remotely to mitigate the spread of this pandemic, organisations need to pull together for the greater good. Keeping businesses operational and protecting work forces from escalating threats should be a global consideration and a united collaboration,” said CEO and cyber security expert, Stephen Burke.

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