COVID-19 forces GTT to fix home connection issues, meet rising demands

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With the demand for internet connection greater now due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has forced persons to work from home and children to attend school virtually, local telecommunications giant, Guyana Telephone Telegraph (GTT) Company is on a mission to improve its residential services.

During a recent interview with this publication, Chief Operations Officer (COO) of GTT’s Home and Fixed Services Unit, Eshwar Thakurdin explained that his focus is to improve home services including Blaze and DSL internet services as well as landline services.

“That means not just getting our services into your home but what happens after that. We want to make sure that you get a service that is reliable. Things go wrong, yes, but we make sure that when they do and if they do, you can reach us easily and that we commit to our promise in terms of when we say we will fix it. I’m making it sound quite simple but it’s a mammoth of a task but it’s one that we’ve started to work on,” he stated.

According to Thakurdin, he has already seen improvements in some of the areas that need to be fixed in order to enhance the home experience for customers. He noted that with the demand for home services at an all-time peak now, GTT has embarked on upgrading its infrastructure for both the Blaze and DSL internet services.

“We’ve seen broadband demand lifted significantly over recent periods driven mainly by the need to work and study at home. It became critical now to have internet at home… So, we’ve done a lot of promotions in the last year to get people to try the new fibre product [Blaze service] and to get people who are using DSL, give them special rates just so that they can switch to fibre. Then we done promotions using our street-sale team to different parts of the community that don’t have access to fibre, where we give out free modems to get the DSL service… I think we’ve reacted a lot to some of the demands and cries of customers saying we need internet and we need it affordably, and we’ve need it installed quickly,” the COO posited.

Since the rollout of Blaze, some 30,000 customers have since transitioned to the fibre optic service, which Thakurdin explained the company is working to further enhanced with value-added services. One such service is the introduction of Wi-Fi pods.

The Plume Homepass Pod is a solution that replicates the Wi-Fi signal to ensure that there is connection to sections of the home or any other premises where they signal is otherwise weak.

“It’s simple as just plugging in a pod and setting up some simple stuff on the app and you can put as many pods as you want in different parts of your home where you need [Wi-Fi] to get to… Now more than ever, there is need for Wi-Fi in every corner of the home,” he pointed out.

GTT is footing the introductory cost of these Wi-Fi pods. Customers get the first one free, while the second pod costs $400 and any other thereafter is $300.

The Head of the Home and Fixed Services Unit further noted that the telecoms company wanted customers to try this new service hence it was made affordable. He added that the response has been tremendous over the past year with over 1000 customers now using the Plume Homepass Pods.

Unfortunately, these Wi-Fi pods are currently only being used for the Blaze service but according to Thakurdin, they are also looking to roll it out with the DSL service in the next couple of months.

Another area that has seen improvements is the installation of the Blaze service, which went down from 15 days to now within four to five days after applying.

“During the pandemic, we’ve managed to gradually break down, improve our processes and automate as much as we can, and reduce that lead time to now four days,” he stated.
However, Thakurdin posited that these enhancements were not without challenges.

“We suffered as any other business [during the pandemic]. We closed all of our retail stores for six weeks and didn’t open up back until we had protocols and protective gears and everything to serve customers… We took a hit with that because customers were frustrated cause they wanted to continue do business. But for us, it was bigger than just getting a sale or just making money. We wanted to make sure our staff were safe. We wanted to ensure we had systems in place so when customers come into office, they felt safe…,” the COO contended.

He further noted that the company’s technical staff, who worked in the fields, also faced the brunt of the effect from the pandemic.

Nevertheless, Thakurdin went on to outline that GTT will continue to roll out its fibre footprint across the country. He disclosed that they have already identified some new areas where the Blaze service will be extended to. These will be announced by the company in the near future.

On this note, GTT’s newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer, Damian Blackburn pointed out that the company’s fibre optic penetration to over 35 per cent of the homes across the country is higher than some more developed countries than Guyana.

“We should be proud in GTT that that fibre revolution has started. Is it going fast enough for everyone? Absolutely not! That’s what I’m here to work with [Thakurdin] on to see if we could get it going faster and make progress to more areas… I’m looking at the plans. One of the things we’re going to do is a five-year plan and that will be at the heart of the plan – how far can we roll this out and where is economic to do so,” Blackburn stated.