The future of business services

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tim Wright, Technology Director of the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP), reports on an ITP seminar held in London on 7 February 2018.

Over the last decade, we have seen the continuing migration to all IP-based networks at the service level, underpinned by high capacity optical cores, with the delivery of ‘over-the-top’ consumer services and applications, where the network is just transporting the bits.

We are seeing access networks, that use a mix of high speed mobile, WiFi, copper and fibre access, with the potential to drive a new era of converged business services that will change the way the enterprises operate.

In addition, we are seeing software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) leading to much more agile networks and developments, such as 5G and business Internet of Things (IoT), are adding additional layers of complexity to service delivery networks. Service Providers are looking to evolve their networks and service offerings to embrace these technologies but is this what businesses are looking for?

This was the subject of an ITP seminar hosted at BT Centre, London last month, and attended by about 80 people with expert speakers from BT, Cisco, and Nokia.

Ian Hawkins, Head of Network Infrastructure & Innovation Practice, BT noted the growth drivers of TV, immersive content, IoT, mobile and 5G and then went on to outline the underpinning technology changes that are bringing benefits to business services. These include ultra-high speed access (3Gbit/s to the home) and transport, autonomic management, SDN and NFV.

The network was steadily evolving to one with G.fast, passive optical networks, point-to-point fibre and wireless in the access network and a layered core infrastructure of servers, IP routers, Ethernet and wavelength division multiplexing with overarching management and orchestration. Businesses will be able to establish services very quickly and these services will be able to scale with business needs – adapting automatically.

This can seem quite scary to traditional operations personnel and the evolution will take time. Challenges include helping business customers understand such highly adaptable networks, the service offering that they support and pricing models.

Dominic Elliott, CTO, Cisco talked through some of the concerns businesses have about such advanced, agile technologies. Businesses in general are naturally cautious when it comes to embracing new technologies. They are used to silo services – static, separate devices, legacy IP voice – rather than converged services. And yet they know that the business models of whole industry sectors can be turned on their head by embracing these new technologies as evidenced by, for example, Uber and Airbnb.

Businesses are demanding increased levels of security, including protection from zero-day threats. With the increase in the number and variety of user devices and with mobility on the rise, coupled with the desire for employees to bring their own device, how do businesses ensure that their services, and their customer data remains secure? What will be the business equivalent of the collaboration tools that their employees (particularly their younger employees) use in their private lives and will these tools also extend to their customers?

Business will spend on IoT but only for very good reasons. For businesses, analytics is very important – data helps them understand their customers and give a better customer experience. It is only by addressing these concerns that businesses will be persuaded to embrace these technologies.

Paul Adams, Marketing Director, Nokia noted that, in the consumer world, technology adoption is happening incredibly fast. He cited the take-up of social media such as Snapchat and Spotify and the industry-disruptive impact of Uber and Airbnb. There are 2 billion devices running Android. And yet is it incredibly difficult to predict what will happen next.

Paul noted that in New York in 1900, you were twice as likely to be killed by one of the 200,000 horses on the streets as you are by a car today! It was simply not possible to reliably predict the take-up of the car nor how simple it would be to control. Solutions to “problems” often come from left-field. He warned about making assumptions – for example, 5G is not the new 4G – and he stressed the importance of basing decisions on factual research. He cited some of the findings from research undertaken by Nokia with Mobilesquared.

Tim Wright from the ITP moderated the panel session. Amongst the issues addressed were questions about the degree to which youngsters, who have grown up with converged services on their mobile devices in their personal lives, will influence the naturally cautious business world as they enter the workplace.

There was also some discussion on how such network capabilities would be rolled-out and the scalability of the applications. The general view was that it will start with relatively small-scale demonstrations of use cases intended to illustrate value to the business and their customers. This will need to go on hand-in-hand with proving the new technologies such as SDN and NFV.