Vodafone unveils five-point plan to combat COVID-19

Vodafone has announced a five-point plan to maintain network service and assist governments across Europe to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

With the coronavirus outbreak now being labelled a once-in-a-century type event, the telco industry is more important then ever. While telcos are now the foundation of almost every element of society nowadays, with more people self-isolating or working from home, performance and co-operation will need to be on-point to keep societies and economies running smoothly.

“Vodafone can play a critical role in supporting society during this unprecedented time and that is why we are announcing our five-point plan,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read. “A plan that ensures better outcomes for all citizens by working more closely with governments.

“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.”

Aside from increasing capacity, the telco has also pointed out the industry needs more help from governments throughout the bloc. For example, access to sites needs to be simplified to allow upgrades to take place, while the team has also asked rules making ‘zero rating’ products illegal to be lifted temporarily.

The five elements of the plan are as follows:

  1. Maintaining the quality of service of networks:

With internet traffic over networks in impacted areas already up 50%, the threat of network congestion is becoming much more apparent. Capacity is being increased across the networks to ensure new usage patterns do not impact performance, while mission critical communications will be prioritised

  1. Providing network capacity and services for critical government functions:

Hospitals are being offered additional network capacity and services, emergency calls are being prioritised, and accessing government-supported healthcare websites will not impact data allowances. Free access to governments’ educational resources will also be offered

  1. Improving dissemination of information to the public:

Government agencies have been offered the opportunity to disseminate critical information via text alerts, and where possible, targeted text messaging will be introduced

  1. Facilitating working from home and helping the small and micro businesses within Vodafone’s Supply Chain:

Besides continuing to maintain network quality, education campaigns have been launched to ensure enterprise customers know about all the tools available to work from home. To aid its own supply chain, Vodafone has said European suppliers will be paid in 15 days, instead of the customary 30 to 60 days

  1. Improving governments’ insights into people’s movements in affected areas:

Wherever technically possible, and legally permissible, Vodafone will be willing to assist governments in developing insights based on large anonymised data sets. This could be a very important tool for governments in understanding the challenge which is being faced

What is worth noting is that all the telcos are pitching in to offer support to governments and local authorities during this challenging time. The value of the telecommunications industry, not only for communications but also insight, should not be underappreciated. However, Vodafone does raise an interesting point; certain rules and regulations might have to be relaxed to ensure effective action against the outbreak.

The new Emergency Services Network is a predictable mess

The National Audit office has delivered a scathing assessment of the UK’s latest public project failure.

The delayed Emergency Services Network (ESN) is yet another waste of public funds, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). Designed to replace the legacy Airwave system run by Motorola with a new ESN using EE’s 4G network, the whole thing was delayed last year due to reasons and the NAO has just got around to working out what this is costing Joe Public. Here’s the summary table from the NAO report.

NAO ESN summary

“The success of the Emergency Services Network is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. “The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

How likely is that? The NAO seems pessimistic, stating that the revised target date is likely to slip, which would result in even more expenses. The NAO notes that EE seems to have raised its game since it last checked in on the project, but basic bits of technology such as the ability to communicate with aircraft are still not up to scratch. The following statements from the NAO announcement show just how unimpressed it is with how this project is being handled.

“The NAO does not think the Home Office has demonstrated that it understands the challenges emergency services face in introducing ESN, such as incurring extra costs by having to switch,” said the announcement. “Emergency services do not yet know how much money they will need to invest in infrastructure to improve the coverage or to make control rooms compatible. Some worry that this could place further financial pressure on other services they provide.

“There are also a number of commercial risks to ESN. The Home Office is currently renegotiating the programme’s main contracts with Motorola and EE, but these are behind schedule. Motorola needs to be carefully managed as it is both a main supplier to ESN and the owner of Airwave. It could therefore benefit financially from further delays if Airwave is extended. The Home Office is also yet to agree who will be responsible for running the ESN service once it is launched.

“The Home Office does not currently have the capability it needs to integrate and test ESN, which comprises multiple pieces of technology that must be made to work together. The Home Office is planning to let a new contract to provide programme advisory and delivery services in 2019.

“The Home Office expects ESN to be cheaper than Airwave in the long run, but the savings will not outweigh the costs until at least 2029. This is already seven years later than originally intended. The Home Office believes that ESN will bring £1.5 billion in financial and economic benefits by 2037. The largest economic benefit (£643 million) is  associated with increases in police productivity. Police representatives told the NAO that they had not agreed these figures with the Home Office.

“The NAO recommends that the Home Office test its overall programme plan to determine whether the new schedule for launching ESN and shutting down Airwave is achievable. The Home Office should also develop a contingency plan that sets out what it will do if the technology it is relying on does not work.”

The sad thing is that this is all entirely predictable and the only time UK public sector technology projects are surprising is when they deliver on time and on budget.