Optus offers extra mobile data as COVID-19 drives up remote work

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Optus offers extra mobile data as COVID-19 drives up remote work

As other telcos and NBN Co face pressure to follow suit.

Optus is set to give its mobile customers one-off data quota boosts in April in preparation for what could be a large increase in the number of Australians working remotely due to COVID-19 fears.

CEO designate Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said in a statement on Friday evening that it anticipated more customers to be at home as “businesses and schools across the country transition to working remotely with the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Optus said it will give “eligible postpaid mobile customers a one-off add-on of 20GB of data during April 2020.”

Eligible prepaid customers that recharged $40 or more during April would receive 10GB of extra data, it said.

The telco did not immediately define the eligibility criteria, but said that offers could be activated through the My Optus App, where it would also post more information about the offers by March 20.

“These are unprecedented times, and we want to help Australians who find themselves having to self-isolate or work from home to stay connected,” Bayer Rosmarin said.

 “Access to data is critical, so we are playing our part in helping the community with our additional data offer”. 

Optus’ announcement came after US-based fixed-line carriers announced overnight that they would rejig plans and ease usage caps in anticipation of a large number of users having to rely on consumer internet connections in order to work remotely.

In Australia, NBN Co appeared to indicate in tweet responses that it would be up to retail service providers to meet consumer needs around anticipated mass work-from-home orders.

However, it was unclear if there were wholesale levers it could pull to temporarily ease data consumption pricing for retailers, which could then be reflected in consumer plans.

“Data limits on plans are set by service providers and we encourage customers to contact their internet retailer to understand how their current plan would support their home working needs,” an NBN Co social media staffer said on Twitter in response to questions about how NBN Co might contribute.

Additional comment was being sought from NBN Co at the time of publication.

A Telstra spoksperson told iTnews that it is "confident [its existing mobile] data allowances will be sufficient" for customers.

"We don’t charge for excess data on new Telstra plans," the spokesperson said.

"But to the question of will we be doing anything further for our customers, we haven’t taken any decisions at this point."

In the fixed-line space, Telstra said it already worked closely with NBN Co and did not rule out COVID-19 related action on internet plans if it was warranted.

"We are in ongoing engagement with NBN Co as part of our day-to-day network capacity management for NBN-related services," the spokesperson said.

"We regularly adjust our provisioning to adapt to changing customer demand and will continue to do so as the current situation with coronavirus develops."

Likewise, a Vodafone Australia spokesperson told iTnews that it is "closely monitoring the evolving situation to understand how we can best support our customers at this time."

"We are currently considering what additional measures would be most meaningful to ensure those most in need of additional support receive it," Vodafone's spokesperson said.

"Most of our customers already have large data allowances or endless data as part of their monthly mobile plan, [and] our Vodafone NBN customers also enjoy unlimited data on their fixed broadband plans.

"In the meantime, we’ll assist any customer who has additional needs through our hardship policy to ensure they’re not disadvantaged due to changed circumstances."

ACSC urges remote work security road tests

The issue came as the government, through the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), issued a warning to all Australian organisations to road test the security of remote working measures and systems.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations are developing strategies to protect staff and vulnerable members of our community,” ACSC said on Friday night.

“The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) would like to remind you to incorporate cyber security into your contingency planning. 

“As more staff may work from home, and the use of remote access technology increases, adversaries may attempt to take advantage.”

ACSC urged Australian organisations to increase cyber security measures “in anticipation of the higher demand on remote access technologies, and test them ahead of time.”

It also urged organisations to “ensure that staff working from home have physical security measures in place.”

“This minimises the risk that information may be accessed, used, modified or removed from the premises without authorisation,” it said.

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