During this time of isolation, technology has become more important than ever and it is being relied upon by both individuals and businesses alike. It allows us to feel close to our friends and family and stay connected to our work colleagues. Technology provides an avenue to get medical support and plays a vital role in keeping the economy going, by keeping businesses connected.

Digital technology and telecom operators are having to adapt to the pace and direction of the market's evolution as a result of COVID-19. In April 2020, statistics released by the UK's Office for National Statistics showed 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home due to the social distancing measures introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, children are streaming online lessons and video chatting with their teachers and university students are participating in distance learning. This inevitably places huge amounts of strain on the bandwidth, and underlying communications infrastructure, that has previously been sufficient.

Data centre operators are facing numerous COVID-19 related challenges but the main one is to limit the possibility of infection for workers, whilst providing continuity of service. Data infrastructure was formally included in the key workers list published by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education on Thursday 19th March 2020 and it is a sector which needs to be factored in when key policy decisions are made.

Telecoms companies and their workers are making a major contribution to keeping the nation connected during the lockdown, ensuring that people can stay and work from home. They have now stepped up even further during this national emergency to support the NHS, its staff and patients. The initiatives being offered include:

  • Additional data and calls to NHS staff at no extra cost – this helps keep NHS staff connected if they are having to isolate away from their loved ones.
  • Free upgrades to superfast speed broadband to NHS clinicians working from home – this allows appointments to take place via video call, to avoid doctors and patients coming into contact.
  • Improved connectivity in care homes – this allows families to keep in contact with their loved ones without visiting them and exposing them to greater risk.
  • Generous data allowances for vulnerable mobile customers – to ensure that the elderly are not restricted from contacting people via the phone, whether for social or medical reasons.

These initiatives create greater opportunities for the most vulnerable in society and should help to save lives by keeping people emotionally connected as well as physically out of harm’s way. It is also an example of how the Government can work with companies and support them in utilizing the systems and processes that we already have in place, particularly in areas that can add value during this crisis.

Mark Evans, CEO of O2 commented: “I’m proud to see the industry work together to recognize and support the invaluable work of front line NHS staff at this critical time. Connectivity remains more important than ever and we are committed to helping ensure that all our customers can stay in contact with friends, family and colleagues”.

Although there has been a gradual change in the way that businesses embrace technology, we have also previously seen some resistance to fully integrating technology into the way we work. A positive outcome of this pandemic, is the pressure that it has put people under to do things differently. It has forced businesses to reassess the benefits of remote connectivity and how to most effectively use technology, as well as whether the processes and procedures they have in place are fit for purpose. It inevitably takes some effort to implement a new system, including requiring new contractual arrangements, ensuring certain compliance requirements are met, and teaching individuals how to use it effectively. However, the changes we are seeing now may lead to more efficient ways of working, as well as cost savings, and we hope there will be a lasting positive impact.