As the world is taken over by the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of industries are attempting to understand how they will cope through the course of the crisis. For Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s), it is a chance to serve their communities and develop trust and goodwill. While the term social distancing has and undoubtedly become the main phrase of 2020, it is necessary to keep in mind that the important aspect, is distancing ourselves physically from others. Remaining socially connected through virtual messaging is imperative for everyone’s safety, sanity, and attempts to keep the global economy moving. MNO’s provide vital infrastructure that allows social connectivity in a world of physical distancing.
There are three main ways in which MNO’s can assist the world in navigating through this crisis.
1. Keeping people connected:
MNO’s have no issue doing the obvious here of course, as it’s their job to keep the network up and running. Ensuring that all consumers are able to keep their accounts going and service people online, is a bigger challenge. This is more so the case in developing markets, where the majority of consumers are on prepaid plans and top ups mostly occur through face-to-face cash transactions.
We have already seen a large number of telecommunications companies come forward to ensure that consumers are able to maintain balance in their accounts and active on their plans. Increased data tariffs and similar measures are important, but in some cases will not address the main problem: how do you buy service without having to do so in person, without cash?
Over the years, digital transformation projects have made it much easier for people to add to their balance online, through applications or web portals. For people with bank account, credit or debit cards, this is easier and more efficient. However, for people in developing markets, this may not be an option. This is where airtime lending can play a very significant role.
The majority of telecommunication companies perceive airtime lending as a way to earn VAS revenues from consumers who are in a tight spot. But when virtually everyone right now is in a tight spot, this method can be used at scale to keep people connected and of course, prepaid revenues flowing. The majority of operators are discussing how they can lower fees and thus increase loan amounts so that consumers are able to stay connected for longer and more cost-effectively.
2. Keeping money moving:
As digital payment channels enable people to top up their accounts, mobile money is also able to play a very big role in the crisis. When money has the ability to pass through digital means, it can keep people in their homes or at least a safe distance apart, in order to fulfil transactions. Telecommunications companies across Africa are cutting mobile money transaction fees to divert people away from cash during the crisis.
To help citizens push through the crisis and also to stimulate increasingly stagnant economies, many countries are starting to directly disperse money to people. Of course, in the developed world this can be done easily with cheques and direct bank deposits etc. For developing markets, this proves to be more of a challenge and in some cases, results in people lining up in crowded queues in the street to get their money. Obviously, this is becoming increasingly problematic when trying to maintain physical distancing. Mobile money is able to play a critical role as a method for the digital disbursement of cash, keeping people at home and at the same time ensuring they have the money they need to get by.
In multiple markets, telecommunication companies have been frustrated by a lack of traction with mobile money. A crisis such as this, has the potential to change consumer behaviour transitions into the long-term future. Making mobile money useful and affordable to consumers today will of course help them to get through the crisis but will also make the ecosystem much trickier for both consumers and merchants moving forward.
3. Maintaining public health
One of the most important things that we can do is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, and telecommunication companies are able to help us maintain our normal lives while doing so through safe digital means. It could be messaging with your friends, video calling your family, or being able to receive money from your government, whatever it is, mobile phones can help us stay healthy and sane.
Telecommunications can be the platform for messaging to huge amounts of people with public health updates, from local or national governments that make sure people are abiding by public safety guidelines. The ability to reach people on a vast and individual basis is imperative when ensuring accurate information reaches the public.
Nobody exactly knows when this crisis will end; when we can resume our normal lives, and when we can say that we have beaten Corvid 19. Until things calm down, MNO’s are and will continue to deliver essential services to consumers. In addition to all the people that are doing amazing things to help fight this pandemic, it would be nice to look back at the work that MNO’s have done to help us come through on the other side of this crisis.