UN agency embarks on information-sharing drive as telcos feel the strain of Covid-19 crisis

ITU unveils platform for reinforcing global telecoms infrastructure

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has launched a new information-sharing platform designed to help safeguard global telecommunication networks during the coronavirus crisis.

The Global Network Resiliency Platform will provide resources to help governments and the private sector boost network resilience, while helping the telecoms infrastructure cope with surging demand as society’s normal routines are upended by efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.

“Never before have telecommunication networks been so vital to our health and safety, and to keep our economy and society working, as during the COVID-19 crisis we are living through today,” said ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao in a statement yesterday (March 23).

“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.”

The platform will provide policymakers, regulators, and industry stakeholders with “best practices and initiatives” to keep networks and telecoms services running as normally as possible during the crisis.

Initially, the platform will serve as a source of information, but will become more interactive over time, said Zhao.

Answering the call

As the United Nations agency dedicated to strengthening the global information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure, the ITU is calling on anyone who is involved in creating or implementing policy and regulatory measures in the following areas to share their findings:

  • Emergency preparedness
  • Broadband availability, affordability, and accessibility
  • Quality of service and experience
  • Consumer protection
  • Universal service strategies

Initiatives already featuring on the Global Network Resiliency Platform include the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s efforts to track Covid-19 cases using smartphone technologies, and VEON’s decision to zero-rate all emergency healthcare and foreign affairs hotlines and websites across 10 countries.

Zhao said these resources “will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere”.

Securing home networks

Amid security concerns around the explosion in home working, the ITU’s Global Network Resiliency Platform has linked to Internet Society guidelines on secure home working.

With around 900 million people now thought to be on lockdown globally, a growing number of citizens are relying on domestic ICT networks to work remotely, stay in touch with loved ones, keep abreast of the latest government advice, and keep themselves entertained.

Doctors are also switching to remote consultations, schoolchildren to online learning resources, and restaurants to online orders for delivery, further straining ICT infrastructure.

Last week, it was announced that the Trump Administration had requested emergency funding for federal agencies that includes provision for teleconferencing, virtual private networks (VPNs), and network security upgrades.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has not only raised network security concerns: Internet speeds have dipped in many affected countries around the world, according to data from web services firm, Ookla.

In response, Apple, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram have voluntarily downgraded video-streaming quality to conserve bandwidth.

A surge in the volume of phone calls being made over mobile and landline networks, meanwhile, has in the UK reportedly affected call quality, and caused dropped calls and a major outage.

With coronavirus infections now reported in most countries, the ITU secretary-general urged world leaders to “not forget all those around the world who still lack access to the internet”.

Founded in 1865, the ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops telecoms technical standards, and aims to widen access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.

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