Internet service providers in Dubai have stepped up to meet the surge in demand created by large volumes of people working and studying from home due to coronavirus containment measures.
Restrictions on daily life have been imposed gradually in the UAE since the country’s first confirmed case of the virus at the end of January. The national government closed all educational institutions on March 8, when the number of cases stood at just 27. Initially slated to last four weeks, officials later confirmed that the ban would stay in place indefinitely.
On March 25 the government in Dubai made the decision to close all commercial enterprises in the emirate, aside from supermarkets, grocery stores, cooperative societies, pharmacies and a limited number of other businesses.
The following day, the UAE government implemented a nationwide night-time curfew from 8.00pm to 6.00am, and on April 4 this was extended to a round-the-clock lockdown in Dubai, for an initial period of two weeks. During this time residents not employed in essential sectors can only leave their homes for medical purposes or to purchase essential items,
The measures have been imposed to limit the spread of the virus, with per capita cases in the UAE higher than the global average. As of April 14, the UAE had recorded 4933 infections and 28 deaths.
Managing increased demand
With many citizens and residents forced to work and study online, internet service providers operating in the emirate have taken steps to avoid network bottlenecks and reductions in internet speeds.
Etisalat, one of two telecoms companies operating in the UAE, said in a statement to local media in late March that it expected overall data traffic to surge exponentially, and as a result had boosted both its local network capacity and international data capacity.
Such efforts are proving successful. According to the Speedtest Global Index, released by internet performance analysis firm Ookla, in March the UAE had the quickest mobile internet speed in the world, with downloads speeds of 83.52 Mbps, upload speeds of 21.79 Mbps and latency of 27 milliseconds.
In terms of fixed broadband, the country rose three places from its February ranking to 26th globally, with downloads speeds of 100.95 Mbps, upload speeds of 51.17 Mbps and latency of 11 milliseconds.
Supporting remote work
The strong performance of networks amid increased demand has been accompanied by a series of steps taken by telcos and regulators to support the adoption of remote working and e-learning across Dubai and the broader UAE.
To assist people working from home, on March 9 Etisalat announced that it would provide businesses with three months of free access to its online collaboration platform Etisalat CloudTalk Meeting, the features of which include unlimited video conferencing.
Due to an increased demand for the service, the company then expanded the programme to allow up to 50 people at a time to join online meetings and discussions.
Meanwhile, as part of an initiative to facilitate e-learning, Dubai-headquartered Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, also known as du, announced on March 17 that it would double the internet speed for schools and universities across the country at no additional cost.
The following day, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that both Etisalat and du would provide free internet data via mobile phones to families with no home internet access.
In order to improve connectivity and communication for professional usage, in late March the TRA went on to remove blocks on a series of applications that use free internet-to-internet voice and video calls, also known as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services.
This move has allowed temporary access to programmes such as Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Skype for Business, Zoom, Blackboard and Google Hangouts Meet, with the intention of enabling companies and educational institutions to hold remote meetings and classes.
However, restrictions on the VoIP functions of popular apps WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime remain in place.
While internet service providers have played an important role in mitigating some of the negative commercial and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the disruption has led authorities to implement a series of economic measures aimed at supporting those individuals and businesses most affected by the virus.
On April 5 the UAE Central Bank announced that it had doubled the country’s banking stimulus package to Dh256bn ($69.7bn). Measures included the extension of retail and corporate debt deferrals until the end of the year, along with various initiatives intended to boost liquidity.
Meanwhile, in late March Dubai unveiled a stimulus package for its free zones, designed to promote business continuity for the 45,000 firms operating in these designated areas across the emirate.
The five-point plan includes the postponement of rental payments for six months, a cancellation of fines for both companies and individuals, and a refund of security deposits and guarantees.