Since the world began battling with COVID-19 and a significant portion of the people have been told to stay at home, the demand for internet access grew somewhat exponentially. We are no different here in Trinidad and Tobago. GML’s Chester Sambrano sought to find out what a day in the life of TSTT’s CEO, Dr Ronald Walcott is like since the Stay-at-Home orders took effect, as well as what the state-owned company is doing to ensure connectivity during this demanding period.
Q. When this issue of COVID-19 arose and social distancing became the main message, what role did you immediately see TSTT playing in society?
Dr Ronald Walcott: Three words—assured uninterrupted connectivity. When we developed our strategic plan six years ago, we determined that broadband access would be the medium through which working, learning and playing remotely becomes possible and as such, our services would become increasingly more essential in people’s daily lives.
The advent of COVID-19 and the attendant need for essentially everyone to work, learn and play remotely has, in many respects, validated what we have been doing. I dare say that we were well-positioned, both from a technology and strategic perspective, to meet the demands of the country, at the consumer, corporate and government level and, we continue to do so in the face of increasing demand.
Q. Since the Stay-at-Home orders came into force in this country, how do you start your day compared to before the orders?
Dr Ronald Walcott: My days normally start very early, around 4 am, this has not changed. Before COVID I would either have gone to the gym or done some other form of exercise. This prepares me both physically and mentally to tackle what are usually complex days. Since the Stay-at-Home order, my morning exercise routine has been somewhat disrupted, but I try to exercise at home and so far this has been okay.
Q. Do you check in with the Chief Technical Officer to ensure that the network is performing optimally?
Dr Ronald Walcott: I look at the network performance daily, sometimes more than once a day. In fact, we have a team dedicated to monitoring and managing the performance of the network.
As a logical extension of this, we also have in place a task force set up to respond to any incident or occurrence that may affect the network or customer connectivity.
This is our number one priority. I also liaise with our major vendors and partners because they are critical to our success. We are only as strong as our weakest link and I’m trying to ensure that there are no weak links throughout our entire ecosystem.
Q. Further to the first question, what do you think is the role/importance of connectivity at a time like this?
Dr Ronald Walcott: The simple truth is, there is no work/school/entertainment/information/etc. from home or remotely without connectivity. There is no calibrating this statement.
Q. What, if anything, has TSTT done or plans to do to ensure proper service during this time?
Dr Ronald Walcott: As with all networks around the world, the surge in online activity, including working and studying from home, has increased overall network throughput by an average of 40 per cent. This level of activity is only expected to increase in the coming weeks and, as such, we have implemented a series of network enhancements to ensure quality assurance.
These enhancements will be even further improved given the recent decision by TATT to grant immediate approval to TSTT’s request for an additional spectrum. Further to this, to ensure uninterrupted service, we have increased reserve power in key areas such as Caura, Couva and Balandra, and a dedicated focus on health-care services in general.
TATT has allocated additional spectrum to manage the increase in traffic. Specifically, we requested spectrum in the 1900 MHz band which would help boost our 3G and 4G LTE networks, and spectrum in the 2500 MHz band which would boost coverage and capacity in our 4G TDD LTE fixed wireless network.
Q. Has there been a noticeable increase in Internet usage since the Stay-at-Home orders, if so can you provide comparative figures?
Dr Ronald Walcott: Month-over-month there is typically a 1-2 per cent increase in internet traffic. However, we have noticed steep increases over the last two to three weeks.
n 15-20 per cent increase in traffic to Google
n 30-40 per cent increase in traffic to Netflix
n 40-50 per cent increase in traffic to Facebook
Q. If you had to give any advice to people in the society regarding internet usage during this time what would that be?
Dr Ronald Walcott: We have a general concern about the rapid dissemination of misinformation via the internet. We are seeing misinformation on healthcare, science and technology, and in our view, this can be counterproductive and possibly dangerous. Experts in various fields around the world continue to stress this point.
Q. How will COVID-19 impact the way we work and live post-crisis?
Dr Ronald Walcott: I think that at a very fundamental level, life as we know it will change, certainly in the short-term and, very possibly in the medium to long-term as well. While I believe it is understandable to think about going back to how we were, I believe we have to think about how we go forward.
Businesses, governments, courts, schools are already assessing how they operate and function. We certainly are.
The reality is that if society can function (albeit not yet optimally) but function nonetheless with a large percentage of its citizens operating remotely, then all commercial imperatives and logistics must be interrogated and analysed.
People are ordering groceries from home, schools are operating remotely, and people are working from home. It seems to me that the “digital transformation” that those of us in this industry were moving the world towards will be greatly accelerated. Of course, as with any transformation, we have to aggressively manage all the attendant challenges.