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Tech companies and telcos offer services for free to combat spread of Coronavirus

(Image credit: Etisalat)

Many tech companies have come into play globally due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak which has pushed more companies, organisations and educational institutions to learn and work remotely.

In the UAE, the Government has decided to close public and private schools and higher education institutions for four weeks to combat the spread of Coronavirus.

The Education Ministry in the UAE had said that a pilot programme for remote education will be implemented during the period of closure without giving further details.

Globally, Google, Microsoft, Zoho, Etisalat, du and Avaya have said that they will grant free access to their paid teleconferencing and collaboration tools for a limited time for enterprise customers and education institutes to make it easier for people and students to work and learn from home.

Google said that its Hangouts Meet will be offered to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally through July 1st while Microsoft is planning to offer a free six-month trial globally for a premium tier of Microsoft Teams to hospitals, schools, and businesses.

Leila Serhan, Public Sector Director for Microsoft UAE, said that they are working with education institutions across UAE’s public and private sectors to empower them with tools such as Microsoft Teams, making remote teaching and learning easier.

“The health and safety of our employees, customers, partners and communities is a top priority for us at Microsoft, and we will continue our efforts to enable them with solutions to collaborate from anywhere,” she said.

Leila Serhan, Public Sector Director for Microsoft UAE

“The health and safety of our employees, customers, partners and communities is a top priority for us at Microsoft, and we will continue our efforts to enable them with solutions to collaborate from anywhere,” Leila Serhan, Public Sector Director for Microsoft UAE, said. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Google was not available for comments when contacted.

Zoho Corp, a provider of cloud-based business solutions, is offering its virtual collaboration and productivity platform – Remotely - free for anyone who needs remote work tools until July 1.

“Cloud-based software plays a vital role in driving the knowledge economy. Knowledge workers have become a major driver of the global economy and remote work is becoming commonplace in many sectors and industries,” Ali Shabdar, MEA Regional Director of Zoho Corp, said.

Zoho Remotely includes 10 key apps - Cliq, Meeting, Office Suite (Writer, Sheets, Show,) Projects, Sprints, Assist, WorkDrive and Showtime, ensuring business continuity while allowing the teams to work efficiently and preserving the organisational culture.

“We invite businesses in the region to utilise ‘Remotely’ after successfully making it available for businesses in the US and other parts of the world,” Shabdar said.

Etisalat announced that it will provide free access for three months to businesses for using its online collaboration platform - Etisalat CloudTalk Meeting - to help companies maintain business continuity by providing a secure platform to collaborate from any device, location, and network in the country.  

Telecom operator du, part of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), has announced its collaboration with the Ministry of Education to support UAE teaching institutions by enabling all postpaid and prepaid customers to access their school websites and homework throughout the entire duration of the closed period without occurring any additional charges on their data.  

The list of participating educational institutions, schools and universities in the UAE that can take advantage of the benefits of this remote learning initiative will be published on its website on Thursday. 

Hussein Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education, said in a statement that the launch of the remote learning initiative is extremely important is it enables seamless continuity of the country’s education curriculum and enhances the concept of lifelong learning.

“Ease of access to information and better learning techniques are among the most prominent benefits of technology that are now relied upon in classrooms, lectures and seminars on a daily basis,” Johan Dennelind, CEO, du, said. 

All users will be able to download content from their schools online educational platforms at no extra cost. The operator will also be providing access to selected VoIP applications - Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, Google Hangout Meet, and Microsoft Teams, in addition to Skype for Business for all fixed-line users for the time being. 

Meanwhile, the US-based contact centre and unified communications specialist’s Avaya is offering its video collaboration solution – Avaya Spaces - free of charge for till August in the UAE and globally to enable remote learning.

It is a subscription-based pricing model but Avaya is offering it free of cost to all educational institutes and NGOs in the country as a measure to facilitate remote diagnosis and collaboration amid travel bans and other restrictions.

Savio Tovar Dias, Senior Director for Sales Engineering at Avaya, told TechRadar Middle East that the need of the hour is not to go and sell equipment but to give direct access for free as “we don’t know who long this impact will continue.”

He said that technology can help combat the spread of Coronavirus as people are living in an interesting world at the moment for the last two or three months and it is impacting businesses in all ways such as travels, meetings and face-to-face meetings have been curtailed.

“Any large gatherings are causing concerns,” he said.

“As many exhibitions and events have been cancelled, remote working and video conferencing will gain traction and it broadens the boundaries of an enterprise for various reasons,” Savio Tovar Dias, Senior Director for Sales Engineering at Avaya said.

“As many exhibitions and events have been cancelled, remote working and video conferencing will gain traction and it broadens the boundaries of an enterprise for various reasons,” Savio Tovar Dias, Senior Director for Sales Engineering at Avaya said. (Image credit: Avaya)

Are tech companies capitalising on Coronavirus?

Dias said the tech companies are not trying to capitalise but to offer it as a service free of cost and for a humanitarian cause.

“As many exhibitions and events have been cancelled, remote working and video conferencing will gain traction and it broadens the boundaries of an enterprise for various reasons,” he said.

However, he said that communicating over phone or video is never the same or replicates face-to-face meetings in any shape or form but some elements can bring together to help and deliver a more effective remote collaboration.

“We need to protect the safety of our kids and give parents peace of mind and help teachers educate kids in this challenging environment. It would be nice to create a space where they can interact and collaborate via chat or video and can be recorded,” he said.

Avaya is in talks with educational institutions, hospitals and NGOs in the UAE amid travel bans and other restrictions.

“We have engaged teams and are in discussions with schools and institutions to educate them and how to add value this week across the region. We have vested interests in kids going to that school.  We have schools that are already our existing customers and have seen interests,” he said.

Moreover, he said that there are final year students who could potentially be impacted by the closure.

He added that healthcare is an important sector for them and many of the top hospitals and clinics globally are using their systems.

“Hospitals and airlines in Wuhan and other areas of China are already using the systems to equip customers with home working solutions and remote patient monitoring and consultations,” he said.

Avaya Space is a mobile app and works on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Call to open VoIP services

Sukhdev Singh, executive director at research and consulting services provider Kantar, said that it is would be a right step for the UAE Government to open up the VoIP services as children are preparing for their final exams.

“TRA can temporarily lift the ban on VoIP services such as WhatsApp and Microsoft’s Skype to ensure that education is not impacted due to Coronavirus. In that way, the UAE Government is very sensitive ad open to adapt to the changes as they have taken the bold step to close the schools. It thinks KHDA would love to take that kind of step,” he said.

Moreover, he said that kids who have both their parents working may have to send their kids back home or it is very difficult to manage at home. In that case, he said the apps should work not only domestically but also globally.