As northern Italy remains partially quarantined and under high alert due to the coronavirus epidemic, the country’s major mobile operators are offering free data to their subscribers.
Vodafone Italia has announced that all customers living in areas hit by the coronavirus outbreak will be given access to unlimited mobile data for a month. The operator will be sending an SMS to affected customers informing them of the automatic activation of the offer, adding that a similar initiative will be launched for business customers in the whole of the country.
Wind Tre automatically activated a 100 GB data bundle for customers residing in the most affected areas starting 24 February and is also offering free top-ups to customers contacting its call centers who are currently unable to access digital channels. The move covers both the Wind and 3 Italia brands.
And Telecom Italia (TIM) has begun contacting customers living in areas hit by the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy to offer them unlimited mobile data. In an SMS sent to selected clients, the operator said the “unlimited data” option will be automatically activated for 30 days starting 27 February and capped at 500 GB. The move comes after TIM last week announced the temporary suspension of its “Operazione Risorgimento Digitale” (“Operation Digital Renaissance”) education project and roadshow in view of the spread of the coronavirus in northern Italian provinces.
The level of dependence that subscribers have on their mobile operators in today’s world is so high that in a crisis, the operator inevitably becomes a lifeline. Italy is now one of the world’s hotspots for coronavirus, and all three major operators have risen to the occasion and made offers of free data to their subscribers. These offers should have the effect of reassuring subscribers that no matter what happens, their MNO will be there for them, and that they will not run our of essential data. Providing that comfort level in a time of instability and fear increases loyalty, which is likely to remain in place long after the crisis is past.
In a quarantine situation, one concern is that people will need more data because they will have to use their mobile devices to do things that they would have done in person if they had freedom of movement. Therefore, free bonus data is particularly appropriate. And the fact that it is free is even more relevant that usual because customers may be afraid that their income stream will be reduced or interrupted due to the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
The three operators’ offers differ somewhat. Vodafone’s is the most generous; there is no stated cap to the unlimited data and the offer extends to business customers, as well (of course businesses are strongly affected economically by the quarantines and shutdowns, which include disruptions to supply chains). TIM says it offers “unlimited” data but imposes an upper limit of 500 GB—still a quite generous amount—while Wind Tre does not describe its offer as unlimited but rather as a free 100 GB bundle. So while all the MNOs will almost surely make gains in customer confidence during this time of difficulty, there is a competitive aspect that may also have an effect on the way users perceive the operators.