The threat of COVID-19 infections will end one day, although it will be many months. Even so, we are in a new normal that is here to stay no matter what:
- Digital channels will grow even more quickly than we had anticipated.
- Certain forms of social distancing measures will remain indefinitely.
- Recovering from the COVID-19’s economic impact will take a long time.
Change is always scary but dtac responded to the COVID-19 situation quickly and effectively. And we will continue to do so.
In March, dtac saw an explosion in the use of productivity apps like Zoom and Office 365. Usage of the dtac app also grew by 30 percent since the emergency decree, while daily user on dtac.co.th increased by 40% for the same period (March 25-April 23). We supported these changes with numerous measures for our customers:
- New packages with free data on productivity apps that are essential to Thailand’s economy.
- Incentives for new users of the dtac app, such as free data.
- Contingency measures to both maintain and continue developing our network.
On the last point, dtac can continue to operate its Network Operation Center even if our headquarters were shut down. (In fact, the same applies to our call centers.) Moreover, the network teams are working very hard to increase capacity in new usage hotspots, such as hospitals and residential areas. And as recent independent measures of our download speeds have shown, dtac remains the fastest network in Thailand.
As digital channels become a new normal for all, dtac can play an important role in enabling this transition for Thai society. For example, the dtac call center is helping Siriraj Hospital by encouraging patients to download and use the Siriraj Connect app. We explain to patients, many of them elderly, that the app can perform certain routine enquiries without having to visit the hospital or take up the time of a health professional. We also made calls to 1669 (National Institute for Emergency Medicine) and 1422 (Department of Disease Control) completely free.
Beyond health, effective use of digital channels will become a given for every business in the new normal, and dtac has a lot of expertise and infrastructure that it can lend to support this. Already our Business Survival Tools are helping SMEs and large enterprises keep their employees connected despite social distancing.
This view of mobile connectivity is very different from a few months ago, when the dominant narrative was that Thais spend so many hours per day on YouTube or Facebook. There is now a growing realization that mobile connectivity isn’t just nice to have. It’s a critical service.
Digital channels are one response to social distancing. But dtac still has thousands of retail points throughout Thailand, and thousands more employees working in our offices and call centers. When digital channels are insufficient, we must meet our customers in the safest possible conditions: wearing a face mask, maintaining a safe distance, checking for symptoms (such as a fever) regularly.
Here too dtac set the highest possible standards very early on. We always erred on the side of caution, mandating self-quarantine for scores of employees, banning travel, closing offices and shops. We also sourced infrared thermometers for all shops, over 100,000 face masks and thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. And we never stop! We are now ensuring salespersons are all behind either a visor or partition when facing a customer.
There are many ways our technology can continue to support social distancing for all Thais. Mobility data can be used to better understand the flow of people, track outbreaks and respond with health resources more quickly. Our close relationship with Telenor, who have a long track record of developing similar solutions to track malaria and dengue, gives us access to this unique know-how. And we have offered the Thai government our full support to make it available to them, using completely anonymized data that protects our customers’ privacy.
In addition to the free 10GB high-speed Internet allowance for Thai citizens, we also offered 100 minutes of voice calls. Moreover, we designed special packages for students with unlimited data for three months.
Social distancing is here to stay. We don’t expect sports arenas and restaurants filling up again tomorrow as they did a few months ago. At our offices, social distancing measures will remain in place to ensure below 50 percent occupancy, meaning work from home will continue, if only partially, until further notice. In this context, mobile connectivity will be more important than ever to maintain our sense of community despite the diminished social contacts.
Our Q1 results showed a very strong January and February. With the COVID-19 outbreak finally reaching Thailand in March, that momentum was broken. In other industries, the picture is even more bleak. As such, spending power and consumer confidence will take a long time to bounce back to pre-COVID levels.
In the short term, we are trying to blunt the pandemic’s economic impact on Thai society.
- For charitable causes, we have facilitated donations using USSD codes and by giving customers the option of converting their dtac reward privileges into donations.
- For dtac employees, including those who are outsourced, we provided a special allowance to help them during this difficult time.
- For our customers, we will continue to provide ways to make it easier and more affordable to remain productive in their work lives and connected to health services.
In addition to some of the above initiatives, we are now supporting the Psychiatric Association of Thailand with free hotlines. They have reported a worrying surge in mental health issues due to heightened stress and financial woes. We also organized an online summer camp to train youth in digital resilience, a key skill as their time spent online continues to increase.
Finally, we have an obligation to all our stakeholders to keep dtac in strong financial health. We are therefore exercising strong discipline in our expenses, with what we call “zero-based budgeting.” All spending in the company is being reviewed in light of the current situation, to ensure we stick to the bare minimum.
THE WAY FORWARD
In this new normal, dtac is more important to Thai society than ever before—as are our responsibilities. We must understand the support our customers need from us even more clearly. We must respond to those needs even more quickly and efficiently. And we must deliver experiences that are consistently excellent.
5G will be critical to achieving these goals. And we remain fully committed to the benefits it can unlock for Thai society. In 2020, our ambition is to both launch 5G at select locations and triple our network capacity for all users. We will achieve this by rolling out massive MIMO solutions at high-traffic locations nationwide while continuing to expand and densify our coverage.
Despite the formidable challenges brought on by COVID-19, dtac has responded quickly and effectively. We have the heart, the imagination and on-the-field execution. Now is the time to rethink how we operate and use technology to thrive in the new normal. We will get through this together! #neverstop
Total Access Communication PLC or dtac