The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is starting to see an expansion of COVID-19. Several cities/countries have been put on soft lockdown with schools shutting down, businesses shifting to teleworking and people advised to stay at home.
Driven by the intent of being part of the solution, a number of telecom operators in the MEA region are playing their role in responding to the pandemic crisis by supporting governments, businesses, individuals and households in dealing with COVID-19.
The situation is even more sensitive for the region as fixed broadband infrastructure, teleworking habits, banking and eCommerce in a number of MEA countries are not as well advanced as in most developed countries.
The chart below shows, for instance, the difference in fixed broadband penetration levels in the MEA region in comparison to Western Europe.
As such, MEA telcos have taken these regional differences into account and have developed tailored response strategies, leveraging the service strengths of each of their local markets.
Below is an overview of the key measures taken by selected telcos in the UAE, Turkey, Tunisia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Senegal, and South Africa.
- March 9, 2020: Etisalat has temporarily changed its network name appearing on the mobile device to ‘Stay Home Etisalat’.
- March 10, 2020: Etisalat announced that it will grant free access to businesses to use its online collaboration platform, Etisalat CloudTalk Meeting, for 3 months.
- March 18, 2020: st the request of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE, both Etisalat and du started providing free mobile data allowances to households that do not have fixed Internet connectivity. This comes in support of the Ministry of Education’s eLearning initiative.
- March 20, 2020: Etisalat lifted the ban on specific over-the-top voice applications/collaboration tools: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard, and CloudTalk for everyone.
- March 23, 2020: Etisalat launched its ‘Business Edge’ platform for small and medium-sized enterprises. The solution provides services including connectivity, unified collaboration services, office productivity tools, a landline, and security services (e.g. cloud firewalls, PC endpoint security and video surveillance). Such a solution could help businesses with their connectivity and remote working needs during this crisis.
15 March 2020: The telco announced a set of temporary initiatives for its #StayHomeWith Ooredoo awareness campaign, including:
- Doubling data allowances for its 5G customers as well as data top-ups through the Ooredoo mobile app for prepaid customers.
- Doubling Internet speeds for multiplay fiber customers and providing free access to select premium content for families and children on its IPTV service.
- Boosting Internet access speeds for all academic and educational entities, for free
- Waiving mobile money transaction fees for remittances (usually sent by expats back home).
- 17 March 2020: STC announced the temporary suspension of fees for SMEs that wish to suspend their services by 30 April 2020.
- 9 March 2020: zero-rated browsing for selected educational platforms.
- March 17, 2020: Turkcell announced that subscribers aged over 65 will be able to make free audio and video calls over the telco’s over-the-top messaging application BiP between March 18 and March 24.
- March 21, 2020: Turkcell, Türk Telekom and Vodafone closed their stores in shopping malls. The operators’ street stores will operate at shorter hours – between 12:00 and 18:00.
- March 21, 2020: Turkcell changed its network name on mobile phones to “EvdeHayatVar” – “there is life at home“. Vodafone Turkey also changed its network name.
Ooredoo, Orange, Tunisie Telecom and BEE
- March 15, 2020: the three major Tunisian telcos – Ooredoo, Orange and Tunisie Telecom – launched a donation campaign via a USSD code.
- March 20, 2020: Internet service provider BEE announced that it would double the speed of its ADSL packages from 4Mbps to 8Mbps, at no additional cost.
- March 21, 2020: Ooredoo, Orange and Tunisie Telecom promised to donate respectively TND800,000 (US$273,925), TND700,000 (US$ 239,685) and TND200,000 (US$68,481) to help the Ministry of Health to cope with the virus.
- March 23, 2020: Ooredoo, in partnership with Attijari bank, made a number of Mobicash cards (mobile money prepaid cards) available for free (normal price 10TND/US$3). This initiative intends to help people perform remote mobile payments and transfers while staying at home.
- March 23, 2020: Ooredoo offered free mobile, MiFi and fixed router Internet access to students of the Virtual University of Tunis.
- March 23, 2020: telecom incumbent Tunisie Telecom increased its international bandwidth from less than 300Gbps to 350Gbps and is preparing to potentially resize its national backbone.
19 March 2020: the operator announced a set of measures in response to the coronavirus crisis, including:
- Free calls between emergency services personnel (closed user groups).
- Contribution of up to XAF420m (US$692K) in equipment and several other logistical initiatives to the government’s COVID-19 response.
- Waiving Orange Money (mobile money) transaction fees for the payments of water, electricity, telephone and pay-TV service Canal+ bills.
- Boosting FTTH speeds and broadband home router fair usage caps.
- Giving an extra 3GB of mobile data to each line on enterprise group fleets; valid for 1 month.
Free 1GB eLearning pass giving access to education content from Senegal Virtual University, Tunisia Virtual University and the French CNED.