Mobile operator Tele2 Russia said that customers who are not able to return to Russia due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic will get free access to messaging services while abroad, through 30 April. The option will also be available for those prepaid customers with a zero balance for their devices.
The option will be available in Europe, Asia, Australia and the U.S. The messaging apps included in the deal will be WhatsApp, Viber and TamTam.
We have recently reviewed a number of initiatives that MNOs have taken to provide support to their subscribers during the coronavirus pandemic. This one from Tele2 Russia is noteworthy in that it not provides some relief for those affected by the situation but also involves a very valid self-preservation strategy for the operator.
As mobile customers find themselves in new and disadvantageous circumstances due to the disease itself and also to the economic impact of the restrictions on travel and movement, operators can be in danger of losing some of those customers, or at least losing some of the revenue from them, if those customers are no longer able to pay as much as before.
In this case, Tele2 Russia is addressing the issue of subscribers who are trapped outside their home country. Ordinarily, they would need to continue to pay international roaming charges or purchase special roaming packages for the duration. However, the operator, by zero-rating some popular messaging apps, is making it possible for these clients to stay in touch with family and associates in Russia while they must remain abroad for longer than anticipated.
Absent such a measure, Tele2 might find itself in the position of losing subscribers. Faced with long-term, higher-than-expected charges, they could possibly have no choice but to terminate service. And if contracts lapse, even if during a time of extraordinary pressures, they may not be renewed again when the crisis is over. So by throwing what is in essence a mobile lifeline to subscribers, the operator is making it possible for them to remain in its ecosystem, albeit through the medium of third-party OTT messaging apps. Then, when they can return home, they will be able to remain there, and happy to do so.