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Telecoms, networks vital in response to COVID-19

By , ITWeb Africa editor.
Africa , 24 Mar 2020
ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has launched a Global Network Resiliency Platform (#REG4COVID) to assist national policy-makers, regulators and industry stakeholders to ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecommunications services are available to the maximum extent during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement released by the organisation, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said never before have telecommunication networks been so vital to health and safety, and to keep economies and society working.

“… as during the COVID-19 crisis we are living through today. As a result, I have instructed my team to leverage without any delay ITU's existing regulatory and policy-maker platform to help countries and industry cope with the increasing stress being put on global networks. At stake is our ability, as one human family, to give health workers everywhere the tools they need to carry out their duties, to allow all those that can to work from home, to trade online, to ensure that hundreds of millions of children and young people keep up with their studies, and to keep in touch with loved ones, wherever they are.”

According to the ITU, the platform will collect relevant and credible information on actions those within the telecommunications ecosystem can take to ensure uptime and reliability of their networks.

“This new ITU platform will provide countries struggling to find appropriate solutions to ensure their networks' resiliency with relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on how to cope with the stresses faced by their infrastructure. And because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere – from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use,” Zhao stated.

He added: “ I call on all ITU members, from the public and private sector alike, to come together to build the best platform we can so that information and communication technology can help defeat COVID-19 and make us safer, stronger and more connected.”

Africa response

At the same time, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) has released a set of guidelines to assist member states in dealing with the crisis.

In a statement the organisation called for ‘harmonised action’ by telecommunications regulators and operators in Africa to help combat the virus.

The ATU’s Secretary-General John Omo is urging the Ministries of ICT, through the telecommunications regulators and operators in the member states, to consider implementing several recommendations, including activating the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).

According to the ATU, CAP involves the use of multiple modes of communication to educate the public about the disease as well as the preventive measures.

“The CAP will make it possible for members of the public to receive CAP-originated information in many ways, such as through mobile and landline telephones, Internet (e-mail, Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, smartphone apps, online advertising, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, in-home smart speakers, etc.), sirens (in-building or outdoor), broadcast radio and television, cable television, emergency radio, amateur radio, satellite direct broadcast, and digital signage networks (highway signs, billboards, automobile and rail traffic control), among others,” the organisation stated.

ATU also advised fixed and mobile telephony providers to reserve some dedicated network capacity, to be made available free of charge, to authorities handling COVID-19.

“Fixed and mobile telephony providers should implement and enable the emergency numbers, for example 119, for voice messaging and promote short message service (SMS) as an alternative to telephony communications during this period. Emergency agencies – such as police, ministries of health and hospitals should adequately size their network capacity, e.g. lines and access trunks, to offer an efficient service when call demand is high. Also, telecommunication providers and amateur radio operators need to perform periodic emergency drills together. The public should adequately be informed of the availability of the service free of charge,” the statement continues.

Industry regulators are also advised to urgently grant telecom/ICT services licenses required to support emergency telecom/ICT efforts, to establish priority call routing on both mobile and fixed networks for people engaged in COVID-19 response, and to ensure that telecom/ICT providers have networks with adequate redundancy and multiple connectivity options for officials fighting the pandemic.

The ATU added: “Frequency planning and allocation are critical at this time for mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Governments should make the necessary spectrum available on a national basis to allow for multiple types of applications and services, from narrowband voice services up to broadband-intensive applications. A combination of spectrum bands should be available free of charge for emergency communications, allowing both terrestrial and satellite systems to be quickly deployed with limited interference.”

It also called for collaboration between all stakeholders, including with the private sector (telecom/ICT operators) private networks, and amateur radio among others.

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