We’re at a good point right now to look back at the last couple of months, how we’ve gone (worldwide) from rapid healthcare response to containment and remote infrastructure building to gradual opening up – what have we learned and how does that continue or change?
I was incredibly fortunate to speak with Anne Chow, CEO at AT&T Business, about her thoughts on the challenges we face and how to meet them. As always, Anne shows an unflagging strength, encouraging us all to take care of each other and rise anew.
In the early days of the pandemic, AT&T Business leveraged their existing emergency response muscle – ordinarily used for hurricanes and forest fires – to extend and deploy communications services in support of the “front lines.” Most critically, the FirstNet network (an exclusive network structure exclusively for First Responders that unites all responder divisions across a common channel) they had built across the United States was already in place and ready for heavy usage. “This is what we were made for,” says Anne.
Please “tune-in” now to this podcast conversation by pressing the PLAY button ( orange arrow ) on the embedded player below.
As CEO, Anne had to ensure the safety of her on-the-ground staff who were working double time in the field and in command centres to scale the network. At the same time, she had to enable all other employees to work remotely. It’s one of those grand cases of using your own tools to their fullest advantage, AT&T having the VPN technology, network capacity monitoring solutions and security services as a business that they could use to redeploy their own staff to work remotely. And even then, as Anne says, at the beginning “every day was different.”
Throughout, Anne took the time to peel back the high level mission of “communications” and remind everyone that communications as we knew it had to change. We all needed to put extra thought into how to connect with people now, and reach out more purposefully – both to business colleagues and customers as well as family, friends and neighbours. That’s when the onslaught of online conferencing for adults and online learning for students began.
Here too AT&T Business used their network to community advantage. They had already begun sponsoring a group of entrepreneurial online learning companies who each had a uniquely catchy way of capturing student attention and converting it to engaged online learning, not an easy task. When the stay at home orders rolled out, AT&T Business launched a $10M US fund to help those online learning providers scale to meet demand and give parents, teachers and students free access.
Another division of AT&T business had been deeply involved in the Telehealth ecosystem. Expanding that as rapidly as proved needed was challenging, with healthcare providers and IT departments already pushed to the max. Stronger, faster 5G networks will go a long ways toward helping tele-health and their associated IoMT devices scale as needed to reach the now much higher demand.
However it was clear to the AT&T Cybersecurity division that cyber criminals had increased their activity in parallel to the crisis and were taking advantage of the expanded number of endpoint weaknesses created by the masses of work from home employees using their own devices, potentially without secure firewalls.
And of course, there was the minor issue of supporting network usage, as about half of the United States shifted to using cellular and WiFi at home seven days a week. AT&T has published month-over-month and year-over-year network usage stats every week to show just how mammoth the change has been. They also participated in the nationwide effort to affordably extend internet access to more households and waive late payments to reduce the “digital divide” during economic hardship for so many.
AT&T Firstnet Network
Thankfully, the FirstNet network performed well under stress. “FirstNet in this very first ever public private partnership,” says Anne, “with the first network FirstNet authority and this dedicated fast lane of connectivity really ensures that first responders are able to communicate across departments and jurisdictions and state lines at all times. And so as you might imagine, my FirstNet team and the FirstNet organisation were extremely busy with COVID-19. FirstNet continues to perform very, very, very well even with the massive increases in the network volumes that we’re seeing for first responders.”
At the time of my interview, FirstNet covered 11,000 agencies and organisations and over 1.2 million connections. There are even three flying cell-on-wheels and a FirstNet blimp – first of their kind public safety communications solutions.
So what are the learnings and how do they apply forward as societies open back up?
- The FirstNet network uniting all first responders is absolutely critical infrastructure and needs to be extended as broadly as possible. AT&T Business has offered nurses, doctors and other first responders a combination of free or discounted service and devices, in some cases for life, to make that feasible.
- Digital network conversion will make this kind of rapid scaling and fit-to-purpose deployment far more feasible, continue to marshal in that direction
- Scale tele-health more rapidly than forecasted to enable remote doctor-patient communications with less risk of infection, especially for the immunocompromised and other vulnerable populations.
- Strengthen VPN and other remote secure connection tools and security monitoring to prevent disastrous endpoint security breaches
- Do everything we can to support personal health – emotional, physical and spiritual – so that we can continue to respond to challenges ahead.
- Evaluate the successes and fails of team and 1:1 communications in remote settings and continue to improve. Polls show that large numbers of people expect to continue working remotely and leaders at all levels need to extend the immediate strategies to long-term viable frameworks.
- Go the extra mile to support small businesses, as they are an essential part of our economic and community fabric.
You can listen to my entire interview with Anne Chow online as part of the Conversations with Dez series. My thanks to Anne and the entire team at AT&T Business for making the conversation possible, and best of luck to everyone during the months ahead.