Connectivity is the lifeblood of the digital world with FTTP and 5G now available in many areas. How can resellers capitalise on the latest opportunities?
A perfect storm is brewing for the connectivity sector. The drivers are seemingly endless, with key factors including: continued momentum around new connectivity standards, the imminent switch off of the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the Covid pandemic and a shift to home working.
Martin Saunders, product director at Highlight said whilst fibre to the premises (FTTP, sometimes referred to as “full fibre”) and 5G are in their infancy in terms of business users, there’s great potential ahead. “5G coverage is still limited, and 5G in routers as an alternative to fixed line, is not yet well supported. However, whilst usage is low, there is considerable interest and we see providers increasingly rolling out 4G, which will provide a great stepping stone to 5G and lets them build experience in managing these more volatile technologies.
“Similarly, there is little FTTP usage, primarily because the roll outs so far have been for residential areas rather than business. The forthcoming analogue switch off is going to push FTTP, so we can expect to see a much faster roll out FTTP in business orientated areas.”
Andrew Wilson, head of wholesale, CityFibre, highlighted how, according to Ofcom’s Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021-26, only 19 per cent of UK homes and businesses currently have access to FTTP. He said, “The government’s target to deliver gigabit-capable connectivity to 85 per cent of premises by 2025 will significantly boost this and through our £4billion investment, we aim to cover 30 per cent of the UK with full fibre connectivity. Over 60 locations are already in build or planning, and we intend to connect one million premises by the end of 2021 and eight million by 2025.”
Oliver Helm, CEO, Full Fibre, said Ofcom’s latest numbers indicate the UK is about a quarter covered in terms of full fibre connections. He explained, “Obviously, that needs to improve and we’re fully focussed on deploying full fibre in areas currently unable to get FTTP from another network builder.”
Adrian Sunderland, CTO, Jola, said we are at the “early stages of the transition”, but there is reason to be cheerful! He said, “The investment taking place in fibre is phenomenal with funders falling over themselves to back new fibre providers. This means that whilst Openreach are already providing five million premises with FTTP and reaching 40,000 new premises every week there are a dozen other providers seeking to deliver fibre in those areas that Openreach haven’t already enabled or published plans to enable.
“This investment in fibre infrastructure is also driving an acceleration in 5G rollout. Rolling out 5G means new radio equipment and antennas need to be installed at mast sites but in almost every case then the backhaul connectivity needs to be upgraded too. The fierce competition in the FTTP market is also helping to drive down fibre Ethernet prices also which helps the economics of rolling out 5G.”
Jeff May, UK sales director at Konftel said the potential is huge but he agreed there’s a long way to go before the full impact of 5G is felt on a wide scale. “I think 5G is a slow burner with many people still getting to grips with 4G but there’s no doubt the practical benefits it will bring will be immense. Speed, accessibility and availability will be the big factors.
“There’s lots of potential for conferencing. We already have a 4G audio conference phone but where the biggest benefits of 5G will be is video. This is a great thing for us all to look forward to because it will mean less cabling and an even more streamlined service. Exciting times are ahead with more wireless freedom but we need consistent nationwide network coverage to be able to take full advantage.”
Ultimately, improved connectivity is vital for the use of modern applications such as Unified Communications according to Saunders at Highlight. “Without the network nothing works. With strong and reliable connectivity, you can modernise your business by using cloud applications and technologies, and the connectivity becomes an enabler rather than a hindrance.
“Although connectivity is improving, the channel has to proactively manage it and look after their customers well. For that they need service assurance platforms like Highlight to deliver a good level of service.”
Wilson at CityFibre said improved connectivity means more opportunity for the channel. “As demand for faster, more reliable connectivity increases year-on-year, this spurs the development and availability of new products and creates new opportunities for the channel to deliver these services to their end-user customers.
“Now really is the time to act! The pandemic has highlighted our need for better connectivity in the UK and driven a growing movement towards considering connectivity as a fourth utility. Customers expect their connection to be fit for purpose and able to support their growing requirements in the same way they expect their electricity to power their house. Inadequate connectivity is not tolerated anymore. Couple that with the looming copper switch off in 2025, the channel has the perfect opportunity to capitalise on upgrading connectivity solutions to full fibre right now.”
Paul Taylor sales and marketing director, Voiceflex, explained that the telecoms industry is fantastic at spotting opportunities. He added, “With the shift to hybrid working, we are seeing hybrid as a service – with a range of services wrapped up in a single monthly fee. We are also seeing business connections being installed in domestic homes with standalone circuits. Users are keeping the present connection for family use, but bigger connections are required with more devices connected per household.”
Bernie McPhillips, sales director at Pangea highlighted how the pandemic jumpstarted digital transformation across the board. “For thousands of businesses across every sector, resilient, adaptive connectivity is the difference between growing and grinding to a halt.
“And in a lot of ways traditional broadband hasn’t been able to provide that. Cable installation delays and bandwidth bottlenecks remain an issue, all while the nation’s data consumption has skyrocketed. So there’s been a shift towards getting connected quickly, cost-effectively, and safely – all roads that lead to mobile connectivity and IoT. Especially now that people are finding that mobile is outperforming fixed lines in many cases, giving customers a real appetite for mobile connectivity.”
Mike van Bunnens, managing director, Comms365, feels that the thought of investing in new technology was not a priority early in the pandemic, but many soon found that by having poor connectivity in their primary workplace meant home workers struggled with “flaky” VPNs. He added, “There is still the big debate over whether the office environment will go back to how it was. We’re probably still too early on to give a definitive answer to this, but offices will never go away, and the world will just adapt. What is certain is that strong connectivity has to become available to everyone, everywhere in order for the country to remain competitive. This is why full fibre rollout is still seen as a strong investment area.”
David Owen, managing director of Intercity Technology’s communications division noted that remote working means businesses are delivering services across unsecure home networks. Organisations, he said, “have no control over these networks whatsoever”.
He added, “As companies begin implementing new remote working policies, many of them will need to reduce their on-premises footprint and consider more dispersed, secure connectivity solutions to access cloud-based services – in order to accommodate sub-sites and remote workers.
“Businesses can’t afford bad user experiences based on poor connectivity anymore. As a result, we’re now seeing large companies purchase connectivity in bulk – in some cases for up to 600 homes. So yes, we are already seeing more willingness from businesses to invest in such strong infrastructure to deliver quality of service and secure connectivity.”
Sean Lowry, CTO at Glide believes businesses need to achieve maximum efficiency. He said, “It’s essential that all team members can communicate with clients and access any files or software they need – wherever they’re working from. Before Covid-19, it was common for organisations to feel that this was only achievable in an office environment. It goes without saying that the pandemic flipped that way of thinking on its head.
“With that said, Covid isn’t solely responsible for kickstarting tech investment. Even before the pandemic, 40 per cent of UK businesses were using cloud-based solutions. Within the next decade, everything will be in the cloud as businesses move away from the legacy of on-premise equipment. In the cloud, employees suddenly have access to version control, encrypted data and repair and restore protection.”
Tim Patrick, head of product, Westbase.io, said the pandemic drove a need for businesses to be able to rapidly roll out connectivity to new locations. “For example, to support projects such as temporary healthcare locations or home workers who didn’t have access to reliable connectivity. A challenge which came later for many of these was how to support these new temporary networks. Specifically, how to maintain IT control and security. Many organisations therefore started to look for more long-term solutions, including networking platforms which could support remote access and control. So the shift we’ve witnessed is definitely a drive to using cellular more to quickly roll out connectivity, but also a shift to ensuring that this connectivity can still be managed as part of the enterprise network.”
Sachin Vaish, managing director of Vaioni Wholesale agrees strong infrastructure is crucial. “You only have to look at home working to realise this. We all have experienced poor internet at home and there is no chance you can effectively work from home if the kids are on Netflix. The Teams video call is just going to fail at some point. Encouraging businesses to take a different view on connectivity at home is really important, especially with FTTP still unavailable in most areas. I think businesses will be thinking about delivering an office-grade experience for home workers and adopting resilient options, such as FTTP and 4G or 5G backup.”
Paul Brooker, senior manager, Zayo Group, said that hybrid cloud connectivity integrating private and public clouds and SD-WAN seem to be most in demand right now. “A key pitfall in implementing SD-WAN however is believing it will save a client money. SD-WAN is a flexible platform indeed, but isn’t necessarily the optimum solution in all cases, especially if teamed with inexpensive and inefficient DIA connectivity. Bespoke solutions using a variety of technologies/infrastructure, will drive corporate benefits, flexibility, user experiences and cost efficiencies over the long term.”
McPhillips noted that some businesses are using reliable multi-network 4G as primary connectivity for projects like lone worker safety solutions, and mobile broadband for homeworkers. “We’re also seeing partners use pre-ethernet to get sites online ASAP – allowing them to collect revenue from day one. [This is] especially [important] for fast-paced projects like construction sites and new offices.
“This then doubles as on-demand backup mobile connectivity once the Ethernet has been installed; this one’s a mainstay for business-critical operations that need to stay on online at all times, like healthcare solutions and electronic point-of-sale for retailers. Lastly, IoT solutions to help businesses operate remotely and open safely post-pandemic, like proximity monitors for warehouse workers or asset tracking for anyone with an inventory.”
Sharon McDermott, managing director and co-founder, Trenches Law, believes the future is bright for the Channel. She said, “We’re likely to see an even greater focus on streamlining operations via automation and, in our industry, there is already a huge demand to help simplify the often-complex wayleave process. By making individual systems more ‘joined up’ – as well as quicker and slicker to execute, with an eye on best practice throughout – companies can begin to benefit from the endless possibilities that savvy technology solutions present.”
Owen said no one predicted the pandemic so businesses are now putting the right infrastructure in place to allow for greater levels of agility. “Channel partners, therefore, will be presented with three opportunities: supporting the replacement of traditional copper, analogue lines and broadband services with FTTP and 5G; providing FTTP to remote workers and 5G to businesses who want to be purely mobile; and offering security solutions to keep customers’ data secure.”
For Patrick at Westbase.io, the key opportunities he’s seeing for 4G and 5G today are mainly branch and vehicle based. “From delivering primary connectivity, to failover and temporary networking, branches are really expanding how they’re using cellular to support their networking needs. The power of cellular in branch networking is really beginning to be realised, and goes hand-in-hand with the increasing deployment of SD-WAN into corporate environments.”
Vaish thinks the biggest opportunities are solutions for the home. “We are all working from home more now and we have been on a video call with at least one user experiencing a poor connection. FTTP is a natural choice. FTTC becomes the new default as well as in many fibre leased lines where broadband is just not viable. We’ve seen a 300 per cent increase in demand for fibre leased lines for the home.”
The future looks bright for channel companies offering connectivity solutions to their customers. Brooker at Zayo Group, said, “Channel partners are focussed on selling the services at the application and network layers in the IT stack. All of these elements need high quality connectivity to operate best. If partners expand their knowledge, focus on developing true turnkey solutions utilising a number of partners, including connectivity and have confidence to be a true collaborator/trusted advisor with end-users. There are many opportunities to create some great momentum, fabulous solutions and longer term client relationships. Couple this with larger residual earning potential, the outlook is very optimistic. The future could not be brighter for the channel.”