Saturday, 30 May 2020

What are UK operators doing to support their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 28 May 20

Keeping the country's networks up and running is one thing, but what are operators doing to help support their customers during the coronavirus outbreak? Below is a brief list showing all of major announcements from UK operators. Are your emergency measures not on this list? Please get in touch.

Want to learn exactly how the coronavirus is affecting UK connectivity? Hear from the experts at this year's Connected Britain   May 28th   Vodafone has teamed up with Bernardo's to launch 'The Great British Tech Appeal', asking the public to donate unwanted smartphones and tablets which would then be redistributed to those most in need during the pandemic.   May 18th The UK government has announced that it is working with a range of network operators to provide deals for NHS workers and vulnerable people in society. Companies providing these special offers include Lycamobile, iD Mobil, Zzoomm, Ask4, Wightfibre, Spectrum, Community Fibre, Voneus, Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, and the Post Office.      May 6th   Vodafone extends unlimited data for NHS and vulnerable customers for 6 months, with UK care workers now also eligible.   April 30th   Ofcom has revised its annual work schedule in the wake of the mass disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.   Three has announced that NHS video consultations will not consume customer data and can be viewed even by those with no remaining data.   April 28th   Rural broadband provider B4RN partners with ZyXEL to provide free routers for 21 schools.   April 23rd    Glide had announced it will provide broadband free of charge for the 300–800 key workers scheduled begin work at the Nightingale hospital in Bristol currently being constructed.   April 22nd   O2 has donated £1 million to support the BBC's Big Night In raising money for vulnerable people affected by the coronavirus.   Co-ordinated by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, Mobile UK and UK Finance, telcos have joined forces with banking and financing industries to try to tackle the recent boom in SMS related fraud, as scammers try to take advantage of coronavirus health messages.   April 21st   The UK National Cyber Security Service (NCSS) has reportedly taken down 2,000 coronavirus-related scams last month and today launched a 'Cyber Aware' campaign…

Want to learn exactly how the coronavirus is affecting UK connectivity? Hear from the experts at this year's Connected Britain
 
May 28th
 
Vodafone has teamed up with Bernardo's to launch 'The Great British Tech Appeal', asking the public to donate unwanted smartphones and tablets which would then be redistributed to those most in need during the pandemic.
 
May 18th

The UK government has announced that it is working with a range of network operators to provide deals for NHS workers and vulnerable people in society. Companies providing these special offers include Lycamobile, iD Mobil, Zzoomm, Ask4, Wightfibre, Spectrum, Community Fibre, Voneus, Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, and the Post Office
 
 
May 6th
 
Vodafone extends unlimited data for NHS and vulnerable customers for 6 months, with UK care workers now also eligible.
 
April 30th
 
Ofcom has revised its annual work schedule in the wake of the mass disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
 
Three has announced that NHS video consultations will not consume customer data and can be viewed even by those with no remaining data.
 
April 28th
 
Rural broadband provider B4RN partners with ZyXEL to provide free routers for 21 schools.
 
April 23rd 
 
Glide had announced it will provide broadband free of charge for the 300–800 key workers scheduled begin work at the Nightingale hospital in Bristol currently being constructed.
 
April 22nd
 
O2 has donated £1 million to support the BBC's Big Night In raising money for vulnerable people affected by the coronavirus.
 
Co-ordinated by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, Mobile UK and UK Finance, telcos have joined forces with banking and financing industries to try to tackle the recent boom in SMS related fraud, as scammers try to take advantage of coronavirus health messages.
 
April 21st
 
The UK National Cyber Security Service (NCSS) has reportedly taken down 2,000 coronavirus-related scams last month and today launched a 'Cyber Aware' campaign, encouraging the public to report suspicious emails.  
 
A report by the GSA shows that the number of commercially available 5G devices have increased 41% in the last month, with nearly 100 5G capable devices now available.
 
April 20th 
 
Vodafone has announced it is providing connectivity for the newly made Nightingale Hospital and increasing capacity in the local area. They have also doubled the calling capacity of the NHS 111 advice service, allowing it to handle 2,400 calls simultaneously, as well as providing relief staff for the surging service.
 
The World Health Orangization and the International Telecommunications Union have announced a joint project to work with operators to help send coronavirus advice messages via SMS to people around the world without access to the internet. While this scheme is set to begin in the Asia-Pacific region, it will be rolled out in Europe as soon as possible.
 
April 19th
 
The UK government has announced a scheme to provide 'disadvantaged children' with laptops and 4G routers to support their education during the pandemic. Care leavers, children with social worker support, and year 10 pupils, that do not already have access to the devices will be given them.
 

April 17th 
 
A new survey commissioned by the Financial Times reports that most Brits (65%) are in favour of letting the government use mobile phones to track the spread of the coronavirus. 
 
Virgin Media is adding a further 17 channels at no extra cost, including a range of popular entertainment and documentary channels. The channels will be free until May 16th. Virgin Media is now offering over 50 additional channels free of charge. 
 
April 15th
 
Vodafone is providing customers with their new Lookout Mobile Security service for three months free of charge, aiming to minimise the impact of increased cyber security attacks during the quarantine period.
 
April 14th
 
Operators efforts to bolster their networks and make them more resilient appear to be working, with research from Thousand Eyes showing a 64% decrease in outages across UK networks between the 6th and the 12th of April. 
 
Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital, supported by King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre and King’s College London have launched the Life Lines project, allowing families to communicate with their hospital-bound relatives via a secure online platform. The Life Lines project seeks to provide two tablets to every intensive care unit (ICU) in the country - BT has collaborated with its tech partners Google, Samsung, and MobileIron to provide Life Lines with a large number of 4G-enabled tablets for this purpose.
 
 
April 10th 
 
Working alongside the government, a group of operators have sought to centralise their message of support for NHS England, NHS Improvement, and NHSX. The measures taken include ensuring that NHS workers receive additional minutes and data to meet their needs at no additional costs, ensuring that clinicians working from home have their broadband upgraded to superfast as soon as possible, improved connectivity for care homes, and providing additional support for vulnerable customers.
 
The operators taking part in the joint commitment are BT (EE), Openreach, Sky Broadband (Sky Mobile), TalkTalk, Virgin Media (Virgin Mobile), O2, Three UK, Vodafone, Cityfibre, Gigaclear, Tesco Mobile, giffgaff, Hyperoptic, and KCOM.
 
April 9th
 
EE has announced that it will enable unlimited mobile data for all NHS staff for the next six months.
 
“We hope this gives NHS staff one less thing to worry about. They can keep in touch with friends and family and use the internet without worrying about using up their data. Along with the discount we already provide, this is a thank you from all of us at EE to those in the NHS that are working so hard for us all,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer Division.
 
The altnets are still investing heavily in full-fibre despite the coronavirus outbreak, with the latest research showing their combined coverage is up to 1.2 million premises.

Virgin Media has added a range of Sky channels to its free TV channel offering it made earlier this week. The Sky channels include Sky One, Sky Comedy, Sky Crime, and Sky Sports Mix, and will be available to all of its TV customers from tomorrow until May 9th.
 
April 8th
 
A partnership betweeen the Vodafone Foundation and Imperial College London have released a free app to help scientists accelerate coronavirus research. Once downloaded, the app, called DreamLab, uses the processing power of your idle mobile phone to contribute to a virtual supercomputer, which is using AI to hunt for anti-viral components in existing medicines.
 
April 7th 
 
Honest Mobile have donated 1,000 sims to DevicesDotNow, the campaign to help reach the 1.7 million UK households that don't have internet access and risk isolation during the pandemic. 
 
April 6th
 
A number of operators including BT and Virgin Media have announced that their frontline workers, who are crucial to keeping their networks up and running, will be receiving a pay rise during this difficult time.
 
Sure, Guernsey's incumbent operator, is offering a range of measures to help keep the island connected, including upgrading all 'basic' broadband customers to 'standard', ensuring faster internet service. It also offers free roaming for those customers caught abroad and unable to return, free calls to COVID-19 support lines, and free 24-hour landline calls for customers using Piper Lifeline service or who are on the Telephone Assistance Scheme
 
BT's CEO Philip Jansen is generously donating his salary to NHS workers for the next six months. He also noted that no BT staff will lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus.
 
Virgin Media has announced it will give its TV customers access to 18 additional channels free of charge until May 2nd, including Comedy Central, Discovery, Fox, Gold and MTV. The move builds on last month's decision to offer a range of kids TV channels for free (see below).
 
April 3rd
 
Tesco Mobile offers all pay-as-you-go and pay-monthly customers free evening (8pm to 8am) and weekend calls.
 
April 2nd
 
Teleconnect has committed to providing all of its customers with remote working capabilities for free, including IT support and delivering phone systems.
 
April 1st
 
Ofcom have praised the operators' efforts to keep the nation connected and have promised to do their part by relaxing their broadband obligations, such as end-of-contract notifications, speed guarantees, and automatic compensation where the operators are unable to carry out repairs.
 
Vodafone is moving to support education during this difficult time, making online e-learning courses from Udemy and extended access to Perlego’s online library of academic text books and publications available for free. The operator has also announced it will be extending its 30-day free access to unlimited mobile data offer to its Pay Monthly customers who are registered NHS staff. 
 
KCOM has removed all data caps from home broadband packages until further notice as part of measures to help its customers through the Coronavirus pandemic.  
 
Zzoomm is offering new and existing customers a free upgrade to their 900Mbps service for April, May and June as part of an initiative to keep people connected with connected with family, friends and colleagues.   
 
March 31st
 
Manx Telecom: Isle of Man operator Manx Telecom has announced a number of special COVID-19 measures for its customers. It is making all local and national calls free to customers on the 'Low User Choice' social inclusion tariff. For PAYG mobile customers, it is extending PAYG vouchers and top-up validity from 90 to 180 days; and introducing a 50 percent call charge reduction in local mobile minutes to other Manx Telecom mobiles, as well as Sure mobiles. 
 
For broadband customers, the operator is removing all caps on broadband services for free, allowing Essential and Fast broadband customers to stay connected. The company also said that it would not disconnect any customers suffering financial hardship as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.
 
Virgin Media: Virgin Media has announced that it is offering a number of popular childrens' TV channels, including Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, to its TV customers free of charge until April 21st.
 
March 30th 
 
A consortium of UK operators have agreed to remove data caps on fixed line broadband. These currently include BT (including Openreach and EE), Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM.
 
They also promised to “fairly and appropriately” support customers who were struggling to pay their bills, as well as offering “generous” new landline and mobile packages, especially to vulnerable members of society.
 
“It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time. It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home,” said digital secretary, Oliver Dowden.
 
BT Group: Despite the telecoms industry being one of those most resilient to the economic impact of coronavirus, BT Group has noted that slashing its dividends is the 'obvious' solution to recoup its virus-related losses.  
 
March 29th
 
B4RN: A story in the Sunday Times shows that Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) have been working closely with local villagers to ensure that broadband connectivity was in place for rural communities before the lockdow.
 
March 27th 
 
Vodafone: Vodafone offers 500,000 UK Pay Monthly customers 30-days free access to unlimited data. Those customers flagged as ‘vulnerable’ will be proactively upgraded so they too can benefit.
 
Juice Broadband: The Poole-based operator is offering unlimited free UK calls to customers.
 
March 26th 
 
O2: The UK operator has decided to zero rate key websites providing support during the COVID-19 outbreak (i.e., visiting these sites will not count towards data allowance). Twenty-two organisations’ websites are included, such as Citizens Advice, Samaritans, Mind, and ChildLine. 
 
March 25th 
 
Uno: The national operator announced it would be removing data caps for all customers for three months.
 
County Broadband: The rural broadband operator has removed data caps for all of its limited data package customers.
 
“The past few weeks have proved very disruptive for everyone with the COVID-19 health pandemic temporarily restructuring our way of life in rapid and profound ways. What has become very clear is that the internet has become the fourth utility, essential to employees remote working, children remote learning, providing entertainment and for staying in virtual touch with family and friends – especially for those in more remote rural communities,” said Lloyd Felton, County Broadband CEO.
 
“We are therefore today converting any packages with data caps to unlimited data packages and putting on hold inflation linked price increases that were previously planned to align our packages to the market as a whole. We hope this announcement will provide much needed help for our customers during this uncertain and challenging time. Our customer services team will also be providing additional support to those who need it.”
Virgin Media: The national operator has announced it will bring 500 customer-support (i.e., call centre) jobs back to the UK to overcome issues surrounding outsourcing location lockdowns in countries like India and the Philippines.
 
 
March 24th 
 
KCOM: The operator announced it will not disconnect customers for non-payment of bills in an effort to help vulnerable customers stay connected.
 
March 23rd
 
Airband: Airband have upgraded their old network customers to unlimited usage packages, as well as doubling their previous broadband speeds. EDIT: Airband has since removed data caps for all broadband packages.
 
 
March 20th
 
BT: The UK incumbent operator has made a number of changes to help support their customer base during the pandemic:
    • NHS online and 111 will no longer consume data allowance
    • Unlimited home broadband for all
    • Remove out-of-bundle charges for critical services, including landline and mobile calls, and introduce £5-per-month cap
    • Dedicated support teams focussed on physical disabilities, mental health, and financial troubles
 
KCOM: The operator excludes key work-from-home technologies (such as Skype, VPNs, and cloud-based office software packages) from consuming data allowance. EDIT: KCOM has since removed data caps for all broadband packages
 
 
March 19th 
 
Jersey Telecom, Sure, Homenet: Jersey operators reach an agreement with local government to boost full fibre broadband lines on the island to 1 Gbps at no additional cost.
 
Three: The operator announced that customers will not have to use their data when accessing NHS online.
 
Vodafone and TalkTalk: The two national operators reported a surge in internet usage, up 20% since Monday, when the nation started to work from home in earnest. 
 
March 18th
 
Virgin: Pay Monthly subscribers to be given unlimited minutes to landlines and other mobiles, as well as an additional 10GB of data, at no additional cost.
 
March 17th 
 
Sky: Sky introduced a range of measures during the coronavirus outbreak: Sky Go Extra will be available to all customers free of charge, UK landline calls will be free for Sky Talk customers until April, and Sky Mobile customers will get a free 10GB data boost. Sky also noted that call centres and engineers would prioritise existing customers during this time to maintain a smooth service.
 
 
How is the coronavirus outbreak reshaping the UK's connectivity landscape? Find out at this year's Connected Britain 

 

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