Rising to the Challenge

An unprecedented surge in data traffic during the lockdown has put telco operators to the test, while leading to a fast-tracking of digital transformation in Greece, says George Tsaprounis, Corporate Affairs Executive Director for WIND Hellas.

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GIG: The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have placed increased demands on network operators around the globe with an unprecedented surge in data traffic. How has WIND met this challenge?

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Tsaprounis: During the past two months, there has been a sharp increase in overall data traffic compared to the time prior to the onset of COVID-19. In addition to this, networks faced and still are facing challenges, since the entire Internet traffic business has shifted from business districts to residential areas, as people establish home offices, home schooling, and home leisure. Therefore, the use of collaborative tools, online video streaming, gaming, as well as other online applications have increased immensely, with data traffic and Internet usage continually reaching new record levels during peak hours.

All of this was an unprecedented situation for Greece and the providers operating in the market. WIND Hellas, as a major telecom player in the Greek market, managed to successfully meet this challenge and adjust adequately to subscribers’ increasing needs.

We succeeded in adapting to this huge surge in data traffic thanks to a significant business transformation that WIND Hellas completed in recent years, combined with continuous investments in the development of state-of-the-art infrastructure for new generation mobile and fixed networks, while increasing network capacity and providing excellent customer service.

Additionally, WIND’s National Network Management Centre and technical teams operate 24/7 to ensure the network's seamless operation, even at times of unexpected heavier traffic.

I must admit that we are proud of the results. Our subscribers stayed connected during this critical time and enjoyed excellent service.

GIG: While telco operators are seeing a spike in data traffic, the closure of retail outlets has a negative impact on sales. Likewise, country lockdowns have a direct repercussion on the travel industry and, in effect, on roaming revenues. What is your outlook for the sector? What measures would you welcome in a bid to gain whatever ground has been lost?

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Tsaprounis: In Greece, the gradual lifting of the restrictive measures that will allow daily activities to resume and the battered economy to recover will begin on May 4. So far, the demand for our services is higher than ever. However, we are still in uncharted waters, so it is still too early to discuss the outlook and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the sector.

During the lockdown, Greek citizens had to send a free SMS to the government in order to leave their homes. Copyright: ImYannis / Shutterstock.com

GIG: Meanwhile, we have witnessed an overwhelming response from many of Greece’s leading corporates to support the government’s efforts to contain the health crisis. In what way has WIND contributed to these efforts? What do you believe has driven this response?

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Tsaprounis: I would agree that the response of most of the Greek corporations to support the government’s efforts to contain the crisis was overwhelming. There may be many reasons behind this such as the decisive action of the public authorities leading the business community to reconsider the adequacy of their preparedness measures, the 10-year financial crisis that we have been through, or our feelings of solidarity and support at a critical time.

WIND Hellas was one of the first corporations in Greece to set up a contingency and crisis management plan amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We placed the protection of our people and the seamless provision of communication services as our top priorities.

At the workplace:

  • As of March 3, the company adopted precautionary measures (among the first in Greece) such as frequent workplace disinfection, distribution of masks and antiseptics, a 14-day stay at home for employees who had travelled abroad, while 50% of our employees began working from home.
  • By March 16,95% of our staff was already working remotely.
  • At the same time, and together with our business partners, we managed to transition 100% of our employees at WIND’s customer support centres to work from home.

For our subscribers:

  • We provided free voice and data services for our subscribers for a 30-day period.
  • Our stores remained open (although for fewer hours) to assist our subscribers.
  • We offered businesses a free of charge app for video conferences.

For the Greek society:

  • We donated telecoms equipment to the 500 Mobile Health Teams of the Ministry of Health for home testing, and with free Wi-Fi access to one of Greece’s major COVID-19 hospitals.
  • Through our networks, we provide free access to digital platforms used by the Ministry of Education for home schooling, as well as to the Ministry of Digital Governance’s specialised portal, gov.gr.
  • We provided free access to all text messages (SMSs) that are being sent to Civil Protection for transportations during the lockdown as well as to Athens University’s Psychological Support line.
  • Furthermore, we implemented the 'Stay home - we'll shop for you' initiative together with a taxi company to assist vulnerable groups in Athens and Thessaloniki in shopping for basic needs.

GIG: This health crisis has also placed the need for technological advancement, diversification, and the wide-spread adoption of digital technologies in the limelight. Do you expect this pandemic to spark any significant changes in this respect in Greece? What role can we expect WIND to play?

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Tsaprounis: The COVID-19 pandemic has already rapidly advanced the digital transformation of the country. The measures that have been introduced during the lockdown and the response of the country to the epidemic’s needs, have already led to a fast-track transformation of the digital landscape. The public sector has been consistently upgrading its digital infrastructures, in various sectors, such as those relating to health, education and citizen services.

WIND has been a key part of the country’s digital transformation over the last few years, investing first in 5G networks, implementing the first pilot 5G network in Greece, while also continuously increasing and expanding next-generation fibre-optic networks, as part of its 5-year investment plan.

In the next period, we will continue to act according to our plan and participate in two major investment and infrastructure projects: Syzefxis II that aims to improve the telecommunication infrastructure of the existing public administration network, and Ultra-Fast Broadband, the biggest jointly funded project for the development of broadband infrastructure in the European Union.

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