In a cash-based economy like Myanmar where a large majority of the population use prepaid plans for their mobile phone, being able to reload credits by purchasing a physical top-up card is the only way they can stay connected. With many parts of the country closing down, this becomes an even more challenging endeavour.
To ensure that daily recharge can be done, thousands of retail shops and distribution points still have to stay open. Telenor Myanmar’s sales & distribution teams across the country continue to move around daily to ensure that they are well-stocked with top-up cards for customers.
The sales teams use their motorbikes to get around.
“It is a risk, but I always keep in my mind that my job is to fulfill others’ needs. People use our services more these days as they connect with their loved ones online. There is still customer demand, which means they still need us. I am relieved that we can at least operate. Other industries have to stop all operations. Our situation is not that bad,” says Aung Min Myat, who leads a sales cluster in Mon State, south-east of Myanmar.
Min Myat and his team of seven used to visit an average of 30 shops a day across the state, but progressive shutdowns mean that they are now only able to visit about 10 key distributors daily.
“Some distributors have shut their shops, but the ones which are still open welcome us when we visit, even more so when they have run out of our top-up cards. But there are some others who have told us not to visit. Nonetheless, we take all necessary precautions before, during and after the visits, including washing of hands, wearing masks and carrying hand sanitisers with us,” says Min Myat.
As communities lockdown across the country, Min Myat and his team are just part of the bigger team working tirelessly to ensure that networks operate optimally and thousands of retail shops and distribution points can remain open for people to stay connected in these challenging times.
On Monday, 23rd March, Barakahu, a residential area in the outskirts of Pakistan's capital city Islamabad, was sealed off as several coronavirus cases surfaced.
Going in and out of the area could pose a significant amount of risk, but as more than 50,000 residents in Barakahu rely on Telenor Pakistan’s services for connectivity, work could not stop for the company’s field operations team.
Given the upward surge in data traffic, cluster of sites serving this area had to be serviced immediately to ensure seamless connectivity for Telenor customers and efficiently manage increased network usage.
As soon as the team found out that access to Barakahu was being cut off, they sprung into action.
“When we heard Barakahu was being locked down, the first thing we did was to procure full protective gear”, says Shahid Habib, Assistant Manager Field Operations in Telenor Pakistan.
Initial regular protection gear were replaced with full protective hazmat (hazardous material) suits. Dedicated field operation teams split themselves up for onsite and offsite operations. Public and Government Affairs team helped to pave the way with the authorities for access into Barakahu.
Ubaid, a BSS Engineer, is one of the first members to volunteer to head into the high-risk area donning a full hazmat suit. He knew that this was a job that had to be done for the residents who rely on their services to connect with the outside world.
“As humans, it is natural to fear especially in these times. But we have to do something to continue our site maintenance for all the customers who are reliant on our services” he says.Some areas were faced with an unprecedented blockage which would potentially leave them without mobile connection in a critical period of time, and hence needed to be serviced immediately.
In Finland the mobile company DNA quickly realised that their services were both at risk - and at the same time of crucial importance - with the pandemic swiping over the world.
“The Management Centre is the heart of DNA’s production. If it coughs, everyone else coughs, too,” says Director Tuomo Rikman with a twinkle in his eye.
In days like these, it’s as apt a metaphor as you’ll find. Sitting heavily on his shoulders is responsibility for monitoring the operational capability of DNA’s networks and services.
“If emergency calls fail for some reason, it can be a matter of life and death. Our own actions thus enable the operations of authorities, and there can be a lot at stake,” Rikman says.
The Management Centre was decentralised due to coronavirus – “buddy near you” laptops taken into use and the control room split into three on different locations in order to maintain reliable operations and to ensure that their staff members do not meet each other. This reduces the risk of the spread of infection.
The operators work in 12-hour shifts around the clock on every day of the year – or 24/7/365, an expression used by Group Manager Visa Urpelainen.
It took only four working days to carry out the physical split, as the temporary facilities were already there. For the control room with around-the-clock operations, the shift timetables of employees and the infrastructure enabling long-term working, such as chairs, tables, refrigerators and microwave ovens, are some examples of the challenges they faced.
“Everything in the new Management Centre is otherwise fine, but we forgot to take our cocoa when we moved,” Rikman says and laughs. His colleague is quick to reply: the cocoa is already on the way.
Produced by Telenor