During the pandemic, the Internet and telephony have become one of the most demanded services in the modern market: the Internet and communications, as the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in the recent Address, are now the basic needs of Kazakhstanis. A person can no longer live a full life without access to information, and the quality of this access is no less important than providing the population with medical care or food. Khadzhimurat Temirkhanov, Director General of the Central Regional Directorate of Telecommunications of Kazakhtelecom JSC, talks about ensuring this quality. How has the coronavirus impacted telecom operator’s work ?
- The coronavirus has dramatically changed our reality, forcing everyone to go online. Distance work, study, delivery of food, groceries, birthdays via the Internet - even at the beginning of the year, we did not even imagine that all this would become a reality. Even state bodies, where, it would seem, until recently, it was forbidden to bring a smartphone into the building, began to work in a remote format and exchange exclusively electronic correspondence. All this, of course, led to an increase in the Internet traffic consumption, and, as a result, to a heavy load on telecom operators. We, of course, are not doctors who heroically fought the infection, but, in fact, we also worked and are working on the front line to ensure uninterrupted provision of communication services. Our specialists, even in quarantine, constantly went to repair damage, accidents, to install equipment and make connections, because we understood how important our services are for the population now. - How much has the load and your subscriber base increased during the quarantine time?
- The increase was multiple, because before quarantine, we had a peak load only in the evening, when all family members returned home and began to actively use the Internet: turning on smart TVs, laptops, computers, tablets. During the pandemic, the same peak load on the networks was recorded throughout the day, because all people were at home: working, studying, just watching movies. And during this period we focused on fulfilling the most important mission - uninterruptedly provide the population with access to high-speed Internet, as well as to high-quality telephone and mobile communications. - How did you cope with these loads?
- We immediately enhanced the bandwidth of communication channels, where it was required, in order to maximize the quality of services provided.
And, of course, we would not have been able to cope with this load without a close-knit team: the well-coordinated work of specialists at all levels helped our branch to restructure business processes in a short time to fulfill the task. - Now that the school year has started in a distance format and the workload, as we understand, is not decreasing, is your branch ready to work in stringent conditions, as they say, at a long distance?
- Look: almost a month has passed since the academic year start in this format, but there have been no major network interruptions. Of course, in connection with the transition of a part of the population to a remote format of work, as well as with the beginning of the academic year in a remote mode, the need for high-quality Internet and telephony has grown, and some local problems arise, but we cope, and tackle them promptly. We are now seeking even bigger population coverage with our services. For example, today 90% of 3000 multi-apartment residential complexes in the capital are connected to the networks of Kazakhtelecom JSC, but we are not stopping - and by the end of this year we plan to connect another 100 residential buildings to our network in Nur-Sultan. - By the way, from time to time in social media people write what they want, but cannot connect to your services. For example, in some high-rise buildings, services are provided by another operator, and there is no Kazakhtelecom.
- Yes, there are cases when residents of new buildings collectively write to us that they want to connect to our services. Then we turn to KSK, get a permission to build our network, and connect residents to our services. There are, of course, houses where, unfortunately, the KSK or the developer does not give us permission to lay the network inside the house, and another operator provides services there on exclusive terms. - In what cases are you unable to enter the house?
- If we talk about the private sector and the suburbs, then there are several constraining factors for the construction of fiber-optic communication lines. First, it is the population density. As I said, it is important for us to provide the maximum number of subscribers with high-speed Internet. That is why we primarily connect multi-storey buildings. Some residents of the suburbs do not want to wait and lay the cable to their house on their own, after which we already connect them to our services. But there is another point in the private sector: often we simply cannot lay the cable, because there is no place. And the resident himself, even if he wants to lay the optics to his home on his own, cannot do this either: there is electric power line on the right, water on the left, sewerage in the center. This is due to the fact that during the development of such areas, telecommunication networks were not designed. We have such a problem in Ilyinka, Lesozavod, Koktal. The building density is very high there. Therefore, residents of these areas continue to use 3G / 4G mobile Internet. But I want to say that Kazakhtelecom is trying to find a technical solution for them as well, which would provide high-quality broadband access.
- And what is this solution?
- Now we are opting for high-speed Internet using wireless technology with a set priority for speed. It is important for those to whom "optics" has not yet arrived. They will be able to install a modem at home, with which they will receive high-speed Internet: such a modem will be assigned to a nearby cellular base station, and such a subscriber will receive Internet services as a priority. The speed will be close to that provided by the "optics". - You have used the term "optics" more than once. Will you explain why this type of communication is now becoming basic in the country?
- It is because it provides the highest data transfer rate at present. When they say “internet via optics”, they mean high-speed internet, which is provided not via copper wire or mobile 4G, as before, but via fiber-optic cable. Inside, this cable consists of glass fibers. In order for a resident to receive the Internet via optics, the cable is laid from the central trunk line to the house, and then into the house, into the apartment itself. It is a new technology, thanks to which the client can receive the Internet at a speed of up to 500 Mbps, and we are now actively expanding the "optics" both in cities and in villages. - You said that you can get the Internet at a speed of 500 Mbit / s via optics. Sometimes people write in social media that they purchase such a tariff, but only get 50 Mbit / s. Why does it happen?
- This is one of the questions that our clients often ask us. It happens due to the connection of a laptop, tablet or other devices via WiFi and it is normal. If you need more speed, then you need to connect your laptop or computer to the modem via a wire. Usually, when we clarify this to our client, the problem is solved. - Kazakhtelecom has implemented the Smart City project in Akkol town. How relevant are Smart Citiy projects in the context of a pandemic, in your opinion? And can they help in the fight against coronavirus?
- Yes, it is during a pandemic that these projects are most relevant, since they allow you to quickly collect the data necessary to manage the infrastructure under quarantine conditions. The processing with Smart City elements of the data on violations of the quarantine regime, crowded places, statistics on the disease foci is carried out in an automated mode, that is, recommendations are developed quickly, and under pandemic conditions, the speed of decision-making becomes a critical factor.
Moreover, the SmartCity project is in demand not only in the city, but also in the countryside: for the first time in Kazakhstan, we have implemented the project on a shared basis with Agrofirm Rodina LLP, which we named “SmartVillage”. In the villages of Rodina, Zeleny Gai and Sadovoe in Akmola region, we have built optical networks with the connection of each house to high-speed Internet and digital television, but the main thing is that the livestock business there is now maximally automated. The interest in this project is very high on the part of the heads of agribusinesses, and we would like to replicate this experience in the future. - Many countries, including Kazakhstan, are now preparing for the second wave of the pandemic. How do you think your company is today ready for recurrence of the spring scenario?
- Basically, I think we have prepared well, first of all, by minimizing contacts with subscribers during the quarantine period and transferring 40% of the company's staff to a remote work format. We supplied this staff with all the equipment necessary for remote work and organized services for the population through online channels in Whats App, Telegram, the Ismet website and through contact centers 160 and 165. As a result, online consultations became available to customers daily from 08.00 to 23.00 in Whats App and Telegram at 8 708 000 0160, as well as on the telecom.kz website, where the capabilities of the user's personal account have been expanded. Now you can apply for connection of services, you can change the tariff plan online. All of these channels help to respond to customer requests quickly and without violating the quarantine regime, and currently 60% of requests are received through online channels. The network itself, as we have already said, works efficiently and copes with the loads, and we do not see any grounds for a critical development of events in our sector now.