Why mobile operators are critical to Thailand’s fight against COVID-19

The mobile industry has been critical to controlling the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand. Internet service providers provided uninterrupted services amid the surge in data usage. But dtac did more than ensuring society could continue to operate productively and safely. From tripling its data capacity to equipping field hospitals with connectivity solutions, dtac supported the fight against COVID-19 on multiple fronts.

dtacblog spoke to Lertratana Ratananukul, the head of government relations at dtac, to better understand how mobile operators have been supporting the nation’s efforts to contain COVID-19.

A CRITICAL SERVICE

“In a lockdown situation, mobile usage becomes a survival tool. This is why our network operations teams were given special permission to cross regional borders and work at night during the lockdown,” said Mr. Lertratana. “Shortly after, dtac reopened its shops, which are deemed an essential service for Thai society’s ability to continue functioning with social distancing.”

As the first wave of COVID-19 hit the kingdom, in April 2020, mobile operators were also faced with adapting their network to an unprecedented human migration from cities to rural and residential areas. To keep up with new traffic hotspots, dtac’s network teams rolled out thousands of massive MIMO sites, tripling the data capacity for all users.

“Our industry was increasingly seen as critical to Thailand’s resilience. In addition to network enhancements, dtac also created educational packages for unlimited access to e-learning and video conferencing platforms,” Mr. Lertratana said. “For the general public, we rewarded the adoption of digital channels to ensure people could still use our services without visiting shops.”

FROM FIELD HOSPITALS TO VACCINATION

In early May 2021, Thailand’s third wave of COVID-19 infections created an urgent need for connectivity at field hospitals nationwide.

“The health authorities are incredibly efficient at setting up the field hospitals and managing them from a medical perspective. But IT and mobile connectivity have come to play a major role in their operations, from reservations to remote diagnostics or even allowing patients to stay connected to loved ones. This is where mobile operators have an unmatched expertise,” said Mr. Lertratana.

In response, dtac strengthened network capacity and installed dtac@home Wi-Fi solutions at numerous field hospitals, such as the Bussarakham 1-5 Field Hospital in Muang Thong Thani.

The next major challenge for Thailand is to achieve herd immunity with a mass vaccination campaign. While provinces can rely on Thailand’s unique network of community health volunteers, Bangkok’s population of 10 million is much harder to manage effectively. dtac, along with Thailand’s other major mobile operators, responded by setting up a registration station for all customers meeting the criteria established by health authorities at the Central Vaccination Center in Bang Sue Central Station.

“A vaccination center processing 10,000 people a day had never been attempted before. It’s about 800 people per hour. But in Bangkok, just about everyone has a mobile phone, and mobile operators are used to managing large numbers of customers,” said Mr. Lertratana. “We saw this as a great opportunity for dtac to support the fight against COVID-19.”

First, dtac opened registration to its customers on May 27 through its shops and digital channels. Within a few hours, its quota was fully allocated. dtac then manages the process of setting appointments and welcoming customers at the Bang Sue Central Vaccination Center, As per the process laid out by the health authorities. There have also been some further rounds of registration when more vaccines were made available, all of which were allocated in less than two hours.

SUPPORTING THOSE MOST AFFECTED

In addition to supporting vaccination and connectivity, dtac offers valuable support to some of the most affected businesses: merchants in markets, food stall owners and small food producers. Many are drastically affected by the pandemic due to the closure of restaurants, markets and borders. dtac Net for Living helps get them back on their feet by growing new streams of income.

“dtac Net for Living trains up these micro entrepreneurs on selling online. We teach them how to create an online shopfront, how to take good pictures of their products, and many more e-commerce techniques. With this training, our trainees aren’t just surviving the pandemic. In some cases, they are making more money than they did before the lockdowns,” said Mr. Lertratana.

By combining broad access to mobile connectivity, easy registration for vaccines and digital upskilling, dtac is laying out a blueprint for Thailand’s recovery.