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Internet applications didn’t exist yet

Hans Martin Adler, a Programmer from the beginning, remembers the early days of digitalization and the time before the Internet

The interview

The entire world in a state of emergency

Extraordinary events such as natural disasters – and a virus pandemic – remind us that no one is immune to crises. Some crises arise suddenly and unexpectedly, while others, such as climate change, develop over time. We humans have always sought to prepare for possible emergencies and to make life "crisis proof." Are we now, in the digital age, better prepared for such events than generations before us were?

Always informed

50 years ago, it was already possible to read a newspaper in the morning, watch TV news in the evening and listen to the radio during the rest of the day. But there was no internet. Today, the internet gives us access to a vast range of news sources 24/7. Now, breaking news spreads like wildfire in social media, and we have apps that can warn us immediately in the case of any disaster.

On the other hand, all kinds of storytellers are active online – peddling fairytales, distorting facts and dishing up brazen lies. Some­times their deception is so skillful that it becomes difficult to recognize.

School at the kitchen table

50 years ago, month-long school closures would have meant month-long breaks in learning for most children. Today, teachers can teach and tutor their students online. Parents helping their children with their schoolwork can bone up online for that if they need to. And they can do so free of any constraints of place or time – and in tune with their own individual schedules and pace.

In online-schooling settings, children with poor educational opportunities, as a result of their social environments or backgrounds, can be at risk of falling even further behind. This is because children, to succeed in online learning, need the right equipment, a quiet, learning-conducive environment at home and parents who can provide the necessary tutoring.

Still up and running

What happens when employees can't come into the office? Not very long ago, that would have meant disaster for many companies. Today, while such a situation still creates problems for many businesses, a new option is available in that many jobs can now be done at home. Some companies have even been able to grow in this time of crisis, thanks to all their employees working from home.

In both office and home settings, data connections can come under attack by fraudsters or cybercriminals. Email phishing is a widely used tactic for gaining access to sensitive information and data. Thoughtlessly opened phishing emails can cripple entire company networks.

Just a click away

50 years ago, when people needed new shoes, they had to go to a shoe store. And if the shoe store was closed, they couldn't get any new shoes. Today, nearly any products, including clothing, furniture and food, can easily be ordered online for home delivery. Internet business has been booming, and the current crisis has only intensified this trend.

But what would happen if a natural disaster made our roads impassable? We can do without a pair of new shoes or even toilet paper, but we can survive only four days without water and only three weeks without food. Many people now see the idea of stockpiling emergency supplies as outdated. But a lack of supplies can cost lives in an emergency.

Support your local dealer

People who like to have bustling downtown areas to stroll through should start thinking more carefully about what companies they order from online. This is something that consumers are becoming more aware of. In a recent survey conducted by the Bitkom digital association, three-quarters of all respondents indicated that they are now increasingly seeking, in their online shopping, to support retailers located within their own regions.

Organizing help

When lakes and rivers reach flood stage, and entire communities are cut off from the outside world, responders need to act fast. During the major floods of 2002 and 2013, volunteer helpers turned out in droves and worked tirelessly. While helpers were equally willing in both events, they were able to organize themselves more effectively in 2013, thanks to social networks. In that year, groups of helpers formed spontaneously, and up-to-the minute information was provided under the hashtag #hochwasser (#flood).

In a crisis, people need reliable information. Unfortunately, even in such extreme situations some people try to mislead helpers by deliberately providing false information.

Slowing climate change

For over 50 years now, we have known that human-caused greenhouse emissions can threaten the world's climate. Although news media have given this issue a great deal of attention, a great many people are still doing – nothing. And yet each of us can help protect the climate. For example, we can communicate online to organize lending and borrowing of household tools, such as power drills and lawn mowers. When people lend and borrow products, instead of owning them, fewer products need to be produced. That conserves valuable raw materials and reduces CO₂ emis­sions from production and transport.

On the other hand, the internet also uses plenty of energy. If it were a country, it would rank sixth inter­nationally in energy con­sump­tion. Consequently, network technology needs to be energy efficient, and it needs to be powered by climate-neutral renewable energies. We at Deutsche Telekom consider it our duty to apply this insight.

Play a little

Sports and recreation are good for us, and they can help calm our fears and anxieties – both in general and during a crisis. But what happens when sports and recreational facilities, and restaurants and movie theaters, are all closed? 50 years ago, the only option then available might have been a good book – or a very limited selection of TV channels. Today, streaming services offer an endless variety of entertainment, and e-readers can hold entire libraries of books. Thanks to online fitness trainers, your living room can double as a gym. You can also go online to visit museums and to watch theater performances and concerts.

But watching a behind-closed-doors sporting event at home, on TV, simply doesn't compare to getting caught up in it with thousands of other people at a stadium. Most of us would not really want to live our lives online.


All of us have spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic. As of the end of March, our MagentaTV customers in Germany can now enjoy #DABEI, a new TV channel. #DABEI offers entertainment for young and old, including programs on fitness and health for body and mind, talk shows and news and Kids@home programming. One example of what Kids@home is doing is SCROLLER-TV, a program aimed at inspiring elementary school kids to use media creatively and competently. A first episode, "My little photography school" ("Meine kleine Fotoschule"), was shown at the end of April.

Closeness in spite of distance

50 years ago, when you wanted to talk to friends and loved ones who happened to be someplace else, you called them on the phone. If you wanted to see them, you had to go to where they were. Today, videoconferencing apps on our smartphones and other devices keep us in constant visual touch with family and friends – even across large distances. We can cultivate friendships across entire continents, even with people we have never met in person. And when people get separated by wars or natural disasters, smartphones give them a way – often, the only way – to stay connected. Not surprisingly, people who are fleeing from trouble guard their smartphones as their most prized possessions.

There are so many kinds of personal closeness that the internet cannot replace. Online, you can't hug people, share the euphoria at a concert, move on a crowded dance floor, cuddle with someone during a movie, comfort an anxious person, dry someone's tears or hold a dying person's hand...

We at Telekom want everyone to #TAKEPART even in times of crisis. That is our promise, that is what we are committed to.

Deutsche Telekom's network is stable

We now work from home, teach our children at home and have streaming marathons. As people do more and more online, we need a network that can reliably handle all of the data they produce. Over the past few years, we have invested billions in our network expansion, and we continue to expand and upgrade our network. These investments have already paid off – during the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, our network has continued to operate problem-free, without a single major failure. And our strategy of "building broadband for millions instead of ultra-broadband for a few" has paid off as well. In Germany, it has helped enable more than 90% of our population to have access to fast internet service during the pandemic.

Ready at all times

Unfortunately, hurricanes and torrential rainstorms are becoming more and more common as climate change progresses. In addition to flooding cellars and uprooting trees, such weather events also damage Deutsche Telekom's infrastructure. They can force water into underground cables and sever above-ground lines. But what happens if internet and telephone service for entire regions gets crippled? In critical situations, a Deutsche Telekom team of experts meets within 15 minutes, analyzes the situation and takes immediate measures. With mobile cell towers, and specially equipped trucks, we can quickly set up temporary mobile networks. We can even replace entire exchanges within 48 hours. Network failures can sorely try our customers' patience. Fortunately, mobile networks almost always continue to function, without any limitations, even in extreme weather conditions. This is why we use text messaging to keep our customers updated about such situations.

We are experienced in responding to crises such as floods and storms. This also applies to our national companies, which are always prepared to respond. In the U.S., for example, T-Mobile US takes preventive measures to ensure that networks stay up and running during the hurricane season. Such measures include regular crisis drills, upgrades of mobile network stations and provision of information to help people prepare for forecast storms. In addition, T-Mobile US supports people in affected regions, as necessary, with key emergency equipment such as generators.

We're there for our employees

We give our employees room to grow personally and professionally and to make a positive contribution to our company and society through their work. To that end, for example, we support them with comprehensive education and training programs, promote their health and offer them options for enhancing their work-life balance. And, needless to say, we are also there for them in times of crisis. When the Covid-19 crisis began, we provided over 80,000 employees in Germany and 180,000 employees around the world with solutions for working from home – all within just a few days. But not all jobs can be carried out from home. Our service technicians, for example, continue to make service calls – with suitable personal protection. They continue to connect accesses, lay cable and set up cellular base stations. All of them show enormous commitment. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the initial-resolution rate in our service has been higher in 2020 than ever before.

Cut off from the outside world

Having network access can be critically important during a crisis. Deutsche Telekom's nearly 6,000 service technicians have continued to make service calls even during the coronavirus pandemic. To protect our customers and employees against infection, we impose strict safety precautions, including social distancing of at least 1.5 m, and wearing of gloves, masks, protective goggles and overshoes. In addition, when risk factors are especially high, Deutsche Telekom technicians also have access to full-coverage personal protective equipment (PPE), such as isolation gowns.

At the end of March, we reached a collective agreement with employee representatives in Germany in record time. As part of that agreement, we agreed to extend protection against dismissal through the end of 2023, and we agreed on rules for imple­menting short-time work. The emplo­yees affected by short-time work include staff at our Telekom Shops. We have increased those employees' short-time working allowance to 85% of their gross salaries.

Our Group Situation Center runs a 24/7 hotline for our employees in Germany. They are welcome to call it in all kinds of threat situations, including the current pandemic. The Situation Center addresses all secur­ity-relevant events, and it coordinates and monitors measures in response to acute threats. Our national companies worldwide maintain similar points of contact for their staff.

Staying secure online

As more and more of our everyday lives move online, data protection becomes more and more important. For example, fraudsters often masquerade as government agencies, in order to spread viruses through the network via email or to gain access to personal data. Therefore, caution is advised: Always carefully scrutinize email attachments before opening them, and never thoughtlessly disclose personal data.

Data protection and data security have top priority for Deutsche Telekom, crisis or no crisis. We protect our customers' data with a comprehensive range of measures. Deutsche Telekom's Cyber Defense and Security Operation Center (SOC) in Bonn analyzes security-relevant data around-the-clock and efficiently combats cyberattacks. It is the largest such center in Europe. Deutsche Tele­kom has similar SOCs worldwide, and they are all linked together. These centers combat attacks around the clock, with a total of 240 experts. We offer a great range of security solu­tions for consumers and business customers. And we help our customers protect themselves.

Home offices can come under attack

Our „Business Network Protect Complete“ product protects small businesses against cyberattacks. It combines a Wi-Fi router and a smart firewall in one device. It protects against attacks from cyberspace – and it is suitable for employees working from home.

Learning from experience

The Covid-19 crisis has taken us all by surprise. When it began, none of us knew what was really on the way. The virus brings pain and suffering for patients and for people mourning deceased friends and loved ones. And the pandemic hamstrings the global economy. But at least we have now developed vaccines against COVID-19 and can thus counteract the pandemic. The situation was different with the Spanish flu, for example, which led to the death of an estimated 27 to 50 million people worldwide in the early 20th century.

Other types of crises, such as climate change, do not come as a surprise, but build gradually. About climate change: We humans are responsible for the majority of the global warming that has occurred over the past 50 years. And it is up to us to mitigate the impacts of climate change, by making our lifestyles more sustainable. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how quickly we can adapt to new situations. The measures taken around the world to combat the pandemic have led to significant decreases in CO₂ emissions. We have seen dramatic improvements in our cities' air quality, and our skies have become clearer and our roads quieter. To some extent, these things have also hap­pen­ed because many areas of our lives have shifted online. We can learn from this experience and use it to make our lives more climate friendly in the future.

Our success in this will also depend on what measures governments take in order to restart their economies. In April 2020, Deutsche Telekom, along with 67 other companies, called on the German govern­ment not to lose sight of climate policy. What we want is for economic measures taken to address the Covid-19 and climate crises to be closely coordinated.

At Deutsche Telekom, climate protection continues to have high priority, and it is an integral part of our company strategy. We have set clear goals in this area, including the following: By 2021, we plan to make the power sources for our entire Deutsche Telekom network, throughout the entire gamut from mobile telecommunications to the high-speed DSL network, completely renewables-based. Already, our customers are surfing on Deutsche Telekom’s green network.

"I plan to reduce my own travel significantly even after the crisis is over. I find I am more productive when I'm not traveling constantly." Tim Höttges, Deutsche Telekom CEO

Innovative solutions and non-bureaucratic support during the Covid-19 crisis

As we see it, in times of crisis our responsibility goes beyond just keeping our network stable and secure. We need to offer a wide range of resources, on both small and large scales. Here are a few selected examples:

Coronavirus warning app

In cooperation with SAP, and under commission to the German government, we have developed a coronavirus warning app. It does more than simply provide access to the results of coronavirus tests. Using a special Bluetooth technology, the app is able to detect other nearby smartphones that also have the warning app installed. When two devices get within 2 m of each other, for a defined period of time, they exchange an encrypted code that they then save for a two-week period. When a person tests positively for Covid-19, they can voluntarily enter this result in the app. Other people with the app who have been in close proximity of an infected person are then alerted on their smartphone. People who are alerted by the app do not find out who the infected person is or when and where they met this person. This app shows how useful digitalization in the health-care sector can be, and it demonstrates how data protection can be safeguarded in the context of such applications. More information about the coronavirus warning app is available here.

Protecting health

Deutsche Telekom in Germany
  • A coronavirus warning app informs users anonymously when they have come in contact with an infected person (see the info box).

  • The warning technology "Enterprise Protection Systems" (EPS) checks that distances are kept between each other, for example at work. In case of infection, contact persons can be informed afterwards.

T-Systems ITC Iberia
  • Has used 3D printers to manufacture protective equipment

OTE Group
  • Has donated over 2 million euros, including for ventilators and intensive-care beds

Examples of digital services during the crisis

Deutsche Telekom in Germany
  • Extra data allowances

  • Special web services for our business customers' home offices

  • Digital education package for schools with laptops or tablets and licences for Office 365

  • Provision of smartphones for senior citizens and nursing homes

Hrvatski Telekom
  • Extra data allowances

T-Systems Netherlands
  • Laptops for elementary schools

Magenta Telekom
  • 10,000 SIM cards, with suitable data allowances, for children living in low-income households

Crnogorski Telekom
  • Free smartphones and internet access, for a two-month period, for children in vulnerable groups

T-Mobile US
  • Extra data allowances

  • Free internet connection for students

T-Systems ITC Iberia
  • Development of an app to help combat food shortages during the pandemic

Magyar Telekom
  • Laptops and Tablets for UNICEF

Offering help

Magenta Telekom
Deutsche Telekom in Germany
  • Deutsche Telekom has supported the crisis helpline "TelefonSeelsorge" and the youth counseling line "Nummer gegen Kummer" for decades

T-Mobile Polska
  • Free advice and crisis hotline for health-care workers as well as older people