Connectivity – Getting Access Right

As connectivity choices expand the challenge for us as an industry is that it’s going to become complicated to proposition as each of the new technologies has their own merits. The great news is that UK businesses have an insatiable demand for bandwidth, and we have lots of options available to us to satisfy it!

We all recognise that the pace of change in the development of technology is relentless and accelerating and the world of connectivity is no exception. Awareness of developments is mixed however and in the home sector is dominated by a constant feed of adverts highlighting speeds and services bundles.

One aspect of the commercial onslaught on this sector that we in the B2B sector could learn from is the absence of jargon thrown at domestic users beyond the standard ‘unlimited’ nature of an access circuit.

There have been big changes in the connectivity market with more in the offing and these are giving partners more options than ever to consider and present to their customers.

According to TalkTalk Business we are entering a 3rd Wave of Connectivity – following dial-up access and LLU with Ethernet First Mile (EFM), with a mix of new propositions delivering a range of speeds and services for users but the market appears confused. What’s the difference between Ultrafast, G.fast and GEA? And what is EAD?

With all those choices and options. How can resellers determine what kind of connectivity their users need today let alone in the near future? It’s time to ask the questions:

What advice would you give to resellers on choosing a connectivity partner?

David Doherty, Product Director – Access and Digital Strategy at Gamma, says there are a number of additional factors resellers should take into account when choosing a connectivity partner.

“It is easy to think it is a highly commoditised market and the only real difference is price, however resellers should also be considering factors such as:

  • Whether the network is business only or business and consumer, (as this can impact contention and performance)·
  • Is end to end connectivity catered for, from the device (wi-fi), access circuits and connection to cloud service providers?
  • Has the network and access products been designed with quality and business performance in mind – throttling, shaping, high latency and no prioritisation can cause issues for many business applications including IP voice.

Doherty says that delivery of the service is also key.

“How is the service delivered, who are their delivery partners and do they share the quality and track record of the supplier?

Resellers need to look at how they’ll be supported by their connectivity partner, ensuring they have a support structure in place and are providing the reseller tools to successfully support their customers but also support commercially in selling these services.

Finally, resellers should take into consideration the ease of doing business with their connectivity partner, from buying to tracking support, as this will affect their offering.”

Helen Freestone, Director of Partnerships and Alliances at Vodafone says that Partners are at the heart of their customers’ digital transformation journey and a key ingredient in helping businesses adapt to change in the market.

“When choosing a connectivity partner, it should be about understanding, collaboration and longevity in the relationship – if you’re not in it for the long-term, you will struggle to establish a strong partnership.

A key question you should be asking before choosing a partner is what are the benefits of this partnership. This means looking at benefits that extend beyond the partner organisation to a partner’s customers too. To answer this, it’s important to consider the depth and breadth of the connectivity portfolio and whether it meets your end-customers’ needs.

Vodafone, alongside our partners, is perfectly placed to facilitate a world where businesses are moving to flexible working practices and digitised operations through our portfolio of products and services, including unified communication, cloud hosting and networking, automation and IoT implementation. We understand that our role is to provide the technologies and products our partners need to be their customers ‘digital partners’ along this journey. In light of this, we have developed and continue to invest in our Partner Programme to enable partners to be successful both today and tomorrow.”

The advice Nick Goodenough, Partner Service Director at Spitfire, would give to resellers on choosing a connectivity partner would be, in short, do your homework.

“Be wary of the cheapest ‘no frills’ providers as you will be left on your own! We suggest always meeting prospective providers as you are seeking a true partnership and spend time evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.”

Goodenough says to ask prospective suppliers to detail the full range of connectivity solutions. “Do they extend from inexpensive DSL through FTTC Ethernet and onto Fibre Ethernet? Do they use multiple wholesale suppliers for resilience and broader on-net access to Ethernet? Can they provide Private WAN connectivity for all budgets, for example can they connect both Broadband and Ethernet into a MPLS network for customers with multiple sites?

The best suppliers will not only provide the UK’s widest range of market leading, competitively priced voice and data circuits but will combine this with exceptional account management, training and support. This is what we specialise in doing at Spitfire.”

What trends are you seeing or predicting in the fixed line connectivity market?

Paul Heritage-Redpath, Entanet’s Head of Products, points to a National Infrastructure Commission report published in July which said copper wires should be switched off within seven years, with a full fibre Internet network rolled out by 2033.

“This is another clear indication that full fibre connectivity is the future and that we will see an ever-increasing demand for full fibre products to ensure businesses future-proof themselves.

This change to the digital landscape will influence the decisions resellers make when choosing which products to sell to their customers; every time they opt for a full fibre connection through Entanet over alternative technologies, they will generate more investment and further full fibre network expansion, which in turn opens up even greater new business opportunities for them.

As we move ever closer to the demise of ISDN in 2025 we expect forward-thinking resellers to look at new options like Entanet’s Full Fibre VoIP, which combines Hosted Voice with GPON to offer a flexible, scalable, resilient and cost-effective solution.”

Helen Freestone at Vodafone recalls that there are trends that she has seen for some time that are now becoming common place in the fixed line connectivity market and within organisations of all sizes and across industries.

“There is a shift towards the internet. As UK businesses demand greater flexibility from their connectivity, there is a move away from physical WAN networks to more agile Software Defined Networks (SDN) that will improve network performance, enable greater monitoring and allow flexibility to reconfigure according to demand.

The growing expectation that speed is crucial to being competitive, in almost any industry, means we’ll see a requirement for greater bandwidth. We are becoming more and more impatient with slow services and our expectation for immediacy has permeated throughout our professional and personal lives.

Bandwidth is like traffic – the more you put through the more congested it becomes – companies will expect the ability to flex it to meet growing network and customer demands. This means we’re likely to see an increasing need for connectivity that is not only flexible but is also scalable, depending on end-user demand, and to provide a solution that meets most businesses’ needs at a moment’s notice.”

Dave Hudson, Business Development Director at ITS believes that the whole industry is at last wide awake to the fact that the UK’s full fibre rollout has dragged its feet for far too long.

“I’m encouraged by the investments of larger infrastructure players; I’m optimistic about the focus and support from central and local Government; and I’m excited by the emergence of alternative network providers playing a much more significant role in this full fibre mission.

There are many obstacles to overcome, but if our industry can truly collaborate, then together these are the pieces of the jigsaw that will make ‘full fibre UK’ a reality. This is achievable, as collaboration and competition at the network layer can comfortably sit alongside each other. The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) recently published by DCMS clearly shows that well over 50% of the UK can economically sustain two or even three full fibre networks.”

Is/Will Gigabit become a de-facto starting point for business users?

Paul Heritage-Redpath at Entanet, points out that the UK currently still lags well behind the rest of Europe when it comes to access to the full fibre infrastructure that makes Gigabit connectivity possible.

“Just 4% currently have access to full fibre in the UK, in comparison to 71% in Spain or 89% in Portugal. However, as the UK moves towards a full fibre future, it also moves to a future where Gigabit should be the foundation on which all connectivity is based; of course, this future will only be possible with the right level of competition and investment in the market.”

Steve Kent at Purdicom, says businesses require more reliability and more throughput every day.
“Needs have surpassed simple internet browsing, and with many now utilising VoIP, cloud-based server offerings and higher resolution on images and videos, more will be required. Legacy fibre infrastructure would provide speeds of up to 100Mbps uncontended, with little growth plan. Now that Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) can provide offerings up to 80 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, SMEs are demanding more from their connectivity. You will see internet service providers supplying fibre connectivity with an upgrade path of up to 1 Gbps as a standard, whether this be through fibre or over the air.”

With 5G trials starting this month do you foresee this technology disrupting the business connectivity market?

Helen Freestone at Vodafone says the emergence of 5G will be a less distinct technological shift forward from previous generations but will enable a major shift in customer experience.

“5G will deliver higher speed and capacity, lower latency and importantly new possibilities in the Internet of Things (IoT). However, 4G evolution is going to act as a bridge to 5G making this the first time in history that one mobile network has needed the previous one to be born. This means that even now we can see the possibility of higher speed and capacity and lower latency. 5G will be the platform for big advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, robotics, connected cities and self-driving cars and will have many applications that we cannot imagine today.

To realise the potential of 5G there needs to be a world-class digital infrastructure that will support 5G. And the connectivity market is key to this. Fibre will be critical for moving the enormous amounts of data generated by 5G connected devices and objects between cell towers. Without fibre, 5G will simply not be able to deliver ultra-fast, reliable, low latency connections on which new applications and services will depend.

It is more important than ever to be working with a partner who can adapt to this changing landscape – meaning they are able to deliver fixed and mobile networks at scale, so you can have the best of both worlds.”

Mark Curtis-Wood at Nimans Network Services believes that 5G really will be a game changer as it represents the biggest leap forward from all the mobile spectrum upgrades.

“It will revolutionise the way we live and work. In many ways it will be an ‘astronomical’ leap forward. You are talking about download speeds of 10,000 Mb per second. It’s mind blowing! 4G can be provide hundreds of Mb per second but 5G has the potential of thousands. It’s clearly a game changer.

There’s been a bit of a buzz around a gigabit smartphone on the back of what 5G will provide. Gigabit speeds on a smart device would have seemed crazy not that long ago. Another huge area that 5G will trigger is an avalanche of innovative services and applications that have been waiting for this type of connectivity. We saw it with 4G how higher speeds change user behaviour which in turn leads to ever more sophisticated and powerful applications

As the requirement for more data becomes even more prevalent, there’s no doubt 5G will impact the business connectivity market.”

<H4>Ed Says…</H4>

What everyone wants is full fibre connectivity now – anything else is just band aid, transitional products to be used before we get the real deal.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine