Are Britain’s internet service providers (ISPs) coming up short when it comes to helping their less tech-savvy users protect themselves against the scourge of telephone scams and online fraud?
In a shocking breach of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer is actually yes. But keep reading anyway.
Now we’ve cleared that up, some explanation, I pose the question because TalkTalk, which runs its own anti-fraud campaign called Beat the Scammers, has just published a set of stats, collated in partnership with Action Fraud, shedding some light on the extent of the problem.
TalkTalk’s data show that in the two year period between October 2015 and September 2017, the five most common online scams in the UK hit over 130,000 people, and those are just the cases that were reported to the police.
Online shopping and auction fraud, where products are misrepresented or never arrive, while the merchants vanish without a trace, was the most prevalent type, with 66,874 cases reported during the monitored period.
Computer service fraud – calls from bogus tech support teams, hit 45,713 people, while email and social media hacks hit 9,473, personal computer hacks, often through phishing emails, hit 6,004, and extortion, where personal data is effectively held to ransom, 1,850.
People in London were the most frequently targeted marks for online fraudsters, where the Met police reported over 20,000 cases, way ahead of their colleagues in West Mercia (Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire), which only had 9,043 reports.
Meanwhile, the people of Essex and West Yorkshire emerged as the least easily fooled, with only 3,956 and 3,894 cases being reported in these jurisdictions – although a cynic, which I am, might point out that because unreported cases obviously weren’t taken into account, the good folk of Basildon and Bradford might just be too proud to admit it.
Donna Moore, who happily is TalkTalk’s head of scam prevention, believes it is the ISP’s responsibility to take on the role of education, which is just as well, otherwise I wouldn’t fancy her chances in her next appraisal.
“We launched our Beat the Scammers education and awareness campaign in 2016 and have continuously improved our service, encouraging our customers to activate our protection tools, completely free of charge,” she said.
“Such tools include CallSafe, which provides customers with a simple way to avoid unwanted calls and enhance their call security. Furthermore, we’re proactively blocking over 700 million unwanted calls a year, and we continue to safeguard customers with the TalkTalk Nevers – a set of guidelines outlining information we will never ask customers for.”
But of course, every good ISP story has to have ISPs throwing shade at other ISPs, so TalkTalk offered some helpful (to TalkTalk) comparisons. Its own CallSafe service includes a number of features that rivals BT and Sky are missing, including unlimited number blocking and whitelisting, feature activation through handsets, and automatic addition of frequently called numbers to an approved list. BT also lacks a screening service and options to accept or reject callers, while Virgin Media, claimed TalkTalk, offers no call blocking features at all.
This is a guest post co-authored by Zach Katsof, director of intelligent communications at Arkadin; Holger Reisinger, SVP of large enterprise solutions at Jabra; and Alan Shen, VP of consulting services at Unify Square.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are evergreen buzzwords. Even within the unified communications ecosystem, AI and ML are popping up more and more frequently, from Cortana voice assistants in Teams and information overload reduction technology in Slack, to call quality troubleshooting algorithms in UC monitoring software.
When it comes to the unified communications and collaboration market, the potential for AI applications across enterprise messaging, presence technology, online meetings, team collaboration, smart headsets and room systems, telephony and video conferencing is endless. But this begs the question: within the UC ecosystem should we think of AI as still very experimental or as having already crossed the chasm? And, if the latter, which of the AI applications and solutions are over-hyped and what’s the real deal?
The AI potential in UC extends both forwards into the realm of the end-user as well as backwards into the domain of IT. For the end-user, AI can automate a series of actions to improve human-to-human collaboration. AI can sort through data (emails, chats, speech recognition) and identify keywords and patterns to then provide feedback on the best way to communicate based on the audience and topic. The more index-able user data becomes, the greater the ability to compare it with keywords from chats and create automated responses to instant messages based on user communication patterns.
AI can also navigate through data and categorise whether people are using time efficiently and productively. For example, while logging the meetings that take place in a company, AI can determine how many of those meetings had agendas, who were the participants, what the minutes included and how much time was spent on each topic. In a similar way, setting up a meeting using AI allows for better resource management. It can evaluate who is attending and recommend the best possible meeting space based on the number of people, the name or topic of the meeting and the tools that might be needed during the meeting. Additionally, it can determine whether or not the participants are in the same office or require a Skype for Business dial-in, and what hardware is needed, like a speakerphone or whiteboard based on whether it’s a brainstorm session or catch-up meeting.
On the IT side, AI can analyse vast amounts of data and UC logs that are available for use in troubleshooting and specific problem solving. Instead of IT having to be reactive in its response to either individual user or systemic UC issues, the presence of AI allows for extrapolated insights regarding how the individual, team or company is performing. Using this learning AI can then issue proactive guidance to IT regarding everything from changes to server configurations to recommendations for a new or different UC headset for a specific end user.
AI in action
AI is regularly applied to enterprise communications to increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary expenditure from humans on tedious work that a machine could take care of instead. The present and future of AI in UC, along with a rating of hype versus reality, is seen in the following areas:
- AI-based gesture recognition on devices: On a conference call, gestures can improve the conferencing experience. For example, on a video conference the system can measure expressions. Cameras can provide details regarding the body language of the participants and provide real-time feedback to improve presentation skills and/or responses. Rating: Early stage.
- Completely automated conference calls: There is ML in transcription, but it is not advanced enough to where voice transcription has completely eclipsed human comprehension. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago. Nowadays, Amazon’s Alexa can understand speech like a human. Rating: Early stage.
- Meeting Management and Follow-Up: AI-enabled devices learn who is speaking, identify key points and then automatically assist people with tasks and send notifications or meeting summaries to all attendees. Rating: Early stage.
- Conference rooms and room systems management: AI-systems drive the entire process of scheduling and setting up meetings. Rating: Nascent stage.
- Smart devices: Meetings are made more efficient and productive by augmenting the conversation with information/insights that currently take hours or days of additional work post- meeting to realize. Rating: Early stage.
- UC systems/platforms (e.g. Cisco, Skype for Business, etc.): IT departments can monitor entire UC systems as well as room systems and identify, for example, when a specific audio/video system in a specific conference room may require a maintenance check-in by IT to reduce possibility of down-time before users are impacted. Rating: Early stage (mature via third party apps).
- Web-chat systems/platforms (e.g. Slack, Teams, etc.): Based on ML from all conversations on the platform, web-chat systems can think in real-time and adjust the questions/suggestions to cater to a specific situation based on prior history/database of similar discussions. Rating: Nascent stage.
- End-user productivity enhancing bots: Personal assistants built into UC apps can simplify actions (e.g. search for information in real-time), and interactive bots can improve customer service interactions (e.g. IVRs driven by bots). Rating: Early stage.
AI risks and considerations
When analysing data input and output, there are risks to consider with AI. If we are able to achieve a level where software is actually taking action and either self-healing the UC systems, or self-scheduling new meetings, we open the door to the software potentially taking the wrong action. Once the algorithm is able to come up with a better conclusion than what a human could do, it issues a recommendation. The model for ML algorithms can be so complex that, if the user or IT wants to ask “why,” there may not always be a why. There are third, fourth and fifth-level elements in this massive, complex algorithm with a huge data model and structure. The human element must arrive at a decision point regarding whether they simply trust the output (because they believe that the outcome will be better), or whether they remain in constant oversight mode.
This is perhaps the ongoing AI dilemma – can an algorithm spit out a decision that would force IT or the end-user to think the machine is doing a better job at managing UC than the human? AI won’t replace our need to think and react. No matter how good a ML platform or AI solution is, people will always need to exercise judgment and validate actions prior to proceeding. The more AI is integrated into UC, the more dependent users will become on it. This could lead to an increased expectation of “perfect” meetings, chats and calls before, during and after the event. If AI systems are not able to keep up or deliver as expected, there will be limited patience and tolerance for poor performance and users will likely stop using it.
Per the state of hype versus reality, the irrefutable notion is that we have not hit the peak of AI – we’ve only begun to scratch its surface. In the current stage, we can still make AI work for us by improving efficiencies, and as it becomes more complex and developed, hope for an automated state of perfection. In short, AI is the real deal but there are still several miles to cover before we cross the chasm to peak performance.
I was hugely pleased today to see that despite the possibility of another legal roadblock in the Court of Appeal, telecoms regulator Ofcom is going to move ahead and lay the groundwork for the long-delayed auction of two massive slices of radio spectrum, one to support enhanced 4G mobile networks, and the other to form the basis for future 5G mobile networks.
But I also detected a definite note of frustration in Ofcom’s statement, which said “the litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it.”
And to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I blame the regulator for being a tad annoyed. Actually, I don’t think the regulator’s statement goes far enough.
Three is challenging the auction process because it believes that the way spectrum holdings in the UK are structured is unfair to smaller operators, that the combined BT-EE entity owns too much spectrum, that its holdings should be capped, and that its ability to bid in the upcoming auction should be restricted.
And I don’t argue with any of this. Yes, it is self-evidently correct that the way spectrum holdings in the UK are structured is unfair on smaller operators such as Three, but it is also true that Three has been able to buy up two major slices of spectrum in the past three years through its acquisition of UK Broadband in early 2017, and a 2015 deal with Qualcomm.
But I now have to ask myself what is more important? That everything is perfectly fair? Or that the UK is able to compete on the global stage?
The spectrum that Ofcom proposes to sell off could have been in use nearly two years ago. Data use on 4G networks shows no signs of stopping. And the first 5G networks will probably be rolled out in this country two years from now.
The UK needs this spectrum in use as soon as possible, and I find Three’s attitude increasingly at odds with the pressing national need to both grow and exploit the potential of our digital economy. We must have more network capacity!
It’s time for Three either to get over itself, or get its rich parent – which made £1.47bn in profit in the first six months of 2017 – to put its hand in its pocket and help keep its UK operation competitive.
In this guest blog, Paul Ruelas, director of product management at Masergy, shares some tips on how to pick the right hybrid network supplier for your business.
A global wide area network (WAN) should guarantee your company a consistently high-quality user experience anywhere in the world. The success of your business – and your business applications – depend on it. Productive business users are paramount.
A global WAN is a corporate asset, one that needs to be under the IT department’s complete control. You should be able to burst when bursting is needed, you should be able to assign services classes that meet your application performance requirements, and you should be able to deploy multiple virtual networks without service provider intervention if you so desire.
All of that requires a WAN supplier that excels at network design and service delivery. How can you ensure this? In part, by asking the right questions. Here are five areas of technical leadership you’ll want your WAN supplier to possess – and questions you should ask to determine whether they have it.
Application user experience
When it comes to a global network, the application user experience (AUX) rules. This has little to do with bandwidth and far more with jitter – a variation in the delay of receiving packets. Your service level agreement (SLA) should contain a jitter value of less than one millisecond, and your WAN supplier should be able to provide an AUX guarantee.
You should be able to check, on a daily basis, what the supplier is providing your company. Ask them if they can provide a consistent user experience anywhere in the world and, when they tell you they can, ask them how they plan on guaranteeing that.
The last mile is an important consideration when drawing up SLAs. Its impact on changes, tickets, and mean time to repair (MTTR) can be significant, so it’s worth checking that the WAN supplier will include the last mile in SLAs. Questions to ask your prospective supplier should include; for your last mile, are you provider-independent? Do you guarantee a clear channel on a point-to-point basis? Does your service provide a business continuity solution, using the internet as a backup solution?
Many carriers and telecommunications companies have grown through acquisition and they own some parts of the fibre transmission networks, switching assets, and legacy systems of the companies they’ve acquired. Before you sign a contract, make sure you understand the impact of their patchwork infrastructure on your global WAN.
The first step in understanding that architecture is asking your supplier to provide those insights into the architecture that they’ll be provisioning for your network. It’s also worth checking if their network supports fast rerouting, that it can deliver Ethernet everywhere, and they are able to provide guaranteed clear channel without any oversubscribing. And, above all else, you need to find out how they will ensure seamless product and service delivery.
Within a supplier’s monthly fee, changes and change requests are often separate costs. These can be substantial. Since the WAN is your asset, you want to be in control of it at all times. Today, a mature service should let you use software-defined networking (SDN) principles. In essence, these let you manage a WAN as if it were a LAN. You can make changes immediately for user experience, bandwidth, quality of service (QoS), VPN provisioning, and more. Can your prospective supplier offer this?
Cloud-based IT applications and services are becoming increasingly important, so cloud connectivity should be part of your strategy and connectivity. Global enterprises want the option and flexibility to connect to the major vendors such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and IBM Bluemix, so ensuring your prospective supplier can connect you to your vital assets in the cloud is paramount.
Some suppliers may provide a “dumb pipe” to the cloud. However, what you should look for is the option to manage this connectivity, and you should be able to manage these connections as extensions of your WAN with full visibility and control.
Technical leadership alone shouldn’t be how you measure your prospective supplier. You should also try to understand the business considerations; customer service/satisfaction, client support, SLAs, price, TCO, and invoicing.
You should own the WAN. But you also want to work with a company that values you as a customer and provides a professional partnership. You should also expect a predictable cost model. That will let you manage your IT functions in keeping with company requirements and budgets.
Negotiating a contract for a global WAN is a major undertaking. By asking the right questions from the start, you can make an informed and positive choice. If your potential supplier cannot answer your questions to your satisfaction, then you need to ask why you’re talking to them in first place.
Chapter 11 is never a good look for a tech supplier, whatever the reason for it. In the case of unified communications and network solutions supplier Avaya, it wanted to buy time to restructure its business as it transitioned from a hardware to a software business. Arguably there was more to it than that, but that was the company line and, damnit, the company was going to stick to that!
But at Gitex Technology Week – the Middle East’s equivalent of Mobile World Congress and CES rolled into one , which has just kicked off in Dubai – Avaya is strutting its stuff with more confidence than I can remember it having at any time since the start of the decade, when it was still drunk on its purchase of Nortel’s network hardware business.
What’s going on? Why is Avaya wearing Chapter 11 with pride? Why is it hosting journalists on foreign press junkets? Why aren’t the PRs crying in the bar? This is not how it’s meant to be!
Well, to start with, Avaya is done with networking hardware. D-O-N-E. The Nortel hangover was obviously too much to bear, and the legacy switching business was duly up-chucked in June (come on down, Extreme Networks!).
Nidal Abou-Ltaif, president of Avaya’s newly-created International division, which (as is so often the case) means everything that isn’t the US and Canada, told me that bidding farewell to the legacy networking business had been an emotional process for Avaya.
Why couldn’t it be made to work, I asked him? Refreshingly for a supplier exec, his reply was candid.
“We wanted to focus on our core business, which was traditional UC [unified communications] and contact centres – what we have sold is an amazing technology and we are very proud of every customer installation we did, but it’s not easy to go to market and keep supporting customers when you have 3% of the market,” he explained.
Switching and routing kit is technology that as Abou-Ltaif said, you can “close your eyes and sell”, and it’s true that a couple of big suppliers basically have this market sewn up, so Avaya believes that by refocusing on its old core business, it can actually sell more by making its products software-based, cloud-hosted, and interoperable with Cisco et al.
Looking ahead, Abou-Ltaif said Avaya will be ploughing money into software and cloud, and it will likely spend at least the next 18 months revitalising and modernising its UC lines to get them match fit for the new world of networks. No new product launches at Gitex this time around.
For the UK – which has lost its status as Avaya’s EMEA base (thanks to the restructuring process into the US and International businesses) – Abou-Ltaif said that Brexit would bring it new opportunities among smaller businesses as they try to modernise their infrastructure to compete more effectively (he also added that Avaya’s German salespeople have Euro signs in their eyes as they prepare to pitch to all the financial services companies that are planning to move some of their operations away from London after Brexit).
So what else can we expect from Gitex this year? Well, Avaya is bringing customers from all over the region and from a diverse set of verticals, ranging from communications suppliers such as Telekom Serbia and Hungary’s Magyar Telecom; to financial services firms such as Oman’s Mashreq Bank and Dutch powerhouse ABN Amro; to white goods manufacturers such as BSH Hausgeräte.
Notice a theme? They’re all sectors that are powering headlong into the connected digital world opened up by the Internet of Things, which will perhaps unsurprisingly be the talk of the show this week, and not just at the Avaya booth – Gitex is a trade event on an epic scale, and everybody wants a piece of the digital pie, from the humblest component manufacturer you probably never heard of to the industry heavy hitters – AWS, Cisco and the like.
Gartner stats suggest that 89% of organisations now expect to compete primarily on customer experience, meaning that enterprises need to rapidly evolve their digital strategies to deliver differentiated experiences to users. Experience is the key word here, and walking around the exhibition halls, Avaya is not alone in pinning its hopes on what I would argue is often rather a poorly thought through concept.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out to be another drunken mistake.
Right now, if you’re responsible for transforming your legacy wide-area network estate, you might be asking yourself, what does it mean to monetise your enterprise WAN? How can I leverage my WAN as a form of currency to earn revenue from my network assets? There are two primary ways to improve a company’s financial bottom line. One is to lower capital and operational expenditure (CAPEX and OPEX), while the other is to increase revenues.
We don’t often think of networks as assets we can monetise but just as governments monetise debt to keep interest rates low on borrowed money and businesses monetise products and services to generate profits, SD-WAN technologies can help monetise WANs to keep bandwidth costs low and deliver new service revenues with greater agility.
SD-WAN can also help internet service providers (ISPs), managed service providers and cloud service providers increase profits by leveraging excess bandwidth and delivering new value-added network services.
According to Gartner, 22% of an enterprise’s capital and operational budget is spent on data and voice networks and staff. In fact, Gartner details how CIOs and network managers can save up to 50% on network expenses with its 10 best practices to optimise spending on network infrastructures and telecom services.
- Manage your network service provider relationships appropriately and save 20%.
- Use hybrid WAN architectures, preferably with SD-WAN, to save as much as 50%.
- Embrace new consumption models and save 30%.
- Implement SIP trunking to save as much as 50%.
- Manage your mobile service providers and save 15%.
- Carefully manage your network equipment vendors and save 30%.
- Segment your network infrastructure and save 30%.
- Leverage WAN optimisation to improve WAN performance and save 30%.
- Just say “no” to chassis-based switches and save 70%.
- Scrutinise network equipment maintenance expenses and save as much as 50%.
Virtual technologies, mobility and the cloud, have forever changed the cost and efficiency dynamics for data delivery, consumption and insights. Unfortunately, many companies are being stifled by their private legacy networks.
Compared to broadband internet, MPLS is expensive and rigid and locks companies into a single carrier for each location. SD-WAN, on the other hand, helps lower bandwidth and management costs, frees enterprise WAN connectivity by supporting multiple network service providers, eases network management, simplifies administration and optimises cloud connectivity.
SD-WAN efficiently distributes traffic across multiple WAN connections including MPLS, low-cost internet, LTE, DIA internet, VSAT, and others. To avoid service provider lock-in, each connection can be from different network service providers. Additionally, because the most progressive SD-WAN techniques are observing behaviour at the packet level, uni-directionally, many times per second, multi-vendor telemetry data analysed by SD-WANs are effective analytics in terms of SLA attainment with both MPLS circuit providers and ISP/cloud internet connectivity service providers. Many enterprises aren’t interested in managing their own WANs and applications, so outsourcing WAN connectivity to a service provider can be a good option. For service providers, SD-WAN as-a-service, bundled with compute, storage and business-critical edge-network apps such as unified communications including voice and video, offers new revenue opportunities for managing enterprise WANs.
Pay as you grow
With a pay as you grow SD-WAN pricing model, WAN infrastructure can easily scale without hitting a performance ceiling. With subscription-based pricing it’s never been easier or more cost-effective to take advantage of SD-WAN benefits, such as eliminating upfront costs and moving budget requirements from a capital expenditure to an operational expenditure, based on a Monthly Recurring Contract (MRC). Comprehensive maintenance may also be included within the MRC subscription to simplify deployment and ongoing support. Some additional benefits include:
- Easily decommission WAN connectivity at the end of a short-term data migration project, or keep it in place to support ongoing strategic projects, like data replication.
- Only pay for bandwidth actually used, instead of overpaying for more capacity than is needed, while also benefiting from intelligent link aggregation to reserve bandwidth for high priority traffic.
- Upgrade virtual SD-WAN appliances at any time, to meet changing WAN capacity needs.
- Dynamically deploy a network on-demand from a centralised controller node, either on-premise or via XSP, to flexibly align WAN support for localized and regional business opportunities.
MPLS has performed well in legacy datacentre to branch architectures, but in today’s cloud-connected enterprises MPLS is not well-suited for connecting users to cloud and SaaS applications, without additional costs and considerable re-engineering. SD-WAN, with diverse commodity internet connections and hybrid WAN options, enables enterprise users to connect to applications in cloud and corporate datacentres over any network and any device – from any geography.
SD-WAN direct cloud connectivity eliminates the trombone effect, so traffic from remote locations doesn’t need to be backhauled to the corporate datacentre before exiting to the internet – eliminating latency that can adversely impact the user quality experience.In addition to cost savings, SD-WAN orchestration makes service-chaining multiple functions significantly faster and easier. CIOs can take advantage of cost-effective thin-branch consolidation of multiple network functions like routing, firewall, app-security and WAN optimisation within a single SD-WAN edge appliance, virtual machine and/or cloud instance.
Think global, act local
SD-WAN network overlays allow administrators to automate new service provisioning without having to rebuild their network hardware infrastructure. The ability to achieve greater control, automated traffic flows and dynamically route traffic among multiple network links with QoS turbo boost and app prioritisation allows organisations to create new service revenues.
When a local or regional time-sensitive business opportunity arises, time to market is of utmost importance, whether setting up a pop-up retail shop, a temporary or short-term healthcare service or streaming live video of sporting, industry or corporate events. The ability to easily and cost-efficiently turn up a reliable, robust and secure WAN within hours can not only make the difference between failure and success, it can deliver a competitive advantage, while supporting new revenue streams, through e-commerce and new customers/subscriber acquisitions.
At a time when every business is looking closely at its bottom line and exploring ways to make savings and generate new revenue, it’s time to take a fresh look at how you can monetise your networks rather than seeing them as a just a necessary drain on resources.
This is a guest post by Atchison Frazer, head of worldwide marketing at Talari Networks.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is making a costly mistake by ruling out in-flight Wi-Fi, argues iPass’ Patricia Hume.
It’s just under a year since the United Nations declared that internet access should be a human right, highlighting the ever-increasing role that connectivity plays in all our lives.
Today, even airline passengers now expect uninterrupted in-flight Wi-Fi, something which has only started to be possible in recent years. In fact, research by Gogo found that millennials are starting to expect the same levels of connectivity in the air as they do on the ground, and 48% of respondents said they would choose another airline if Wi-Fi was not available on their chosen flight.
This marks a serious shift in passenger expectations, which is why it was so surprising that the CEO of Ryanair recently said that the company had no plans to offer Wi-Fi to its customers.
Although airlines can avoid costly plane upgrades in the short term, they will surely end up losing far more in the long run; consumers are increasingly demanding Wi-Fi, whether they are on planes, trains, in cars or even on the Underground.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, recently announced plans to ensure the whole of the London Underground is connected – beyond the in-station Wi-Fi we have today – so the customer expectation of Wi-Fi access will only increase as connectivity ‘not-spots’ decrease and the times when they aren’t able to connect become ever rarer.
Likewise, in-flight connectivity may be a valuable additional revenue stream for budget airlines, which have adopted a model of selling extra services so successfully in the past.
Fortunately Ryanair is in something of a minority when it comes to choosing not to offer in-flight connectivity. In the last few weeks, Icelandair announced transatlantic in-flight connectivity from 2018, and airlines including Qatar and Air Canada have also announced that they will be offering new or enhanced connectivity on their planes.
It is not just long-haul flights either; it won’t be long until shorter European trips, and even domestic flights, also offer Wi-Fi, and in some cases airlines already are. Clearly there is an appetite for this service, and the vast majority of airlines are choosing to satisfy this need.
Travelers expect to be connected at every point in their journey, whether in-flight, at the airport, at their hotel, and even in the taxi that took them there.
The good news is that over the next 12 months, more and more travelers will be able to stay connected wherever they are, even at 30,000 feet.
Airlines that choose not to offer in-flight Wi-Fi cut themselves off from a valuable revenue stream and risk having customers choose a competitor’s service – so you can count on the fact that Wi-Fi won’t stay grounded for long.
Patricia Hume is chief commercial officer at Wi-Fi network aggregator iPass
Unified communications expert Paul Clarke says the technology is still far from ubiquity especially as more CIOs implement mobile-first strategies.
From a unified communications perspective, the drive for greater mobility will be the guiding force shaping the office of tomorrow. In the not too distant future, workers won’t have assigned desks or even offices to work at. Instead, work will take place where and when it is needed, with employees doing their jobs as much online as they do in person.
Harvard researcher and workspace expert Jennifer Magnolfi explains that “we used to define ‘work’ by crossing the threshold of a physical building that we called ‘the office.’ Once we did that, we entered into this mindset that we were at work, and we were doing work. Today that same passage happens when we connect to our work-related data on our smartphones or other tools.”
The need for increased productivity with limited investment is driving this trend towards increased mobility. Global productivity is waning and has been since the financial crisis of 2008. Mobility boosts productivity by enabling employees to work all the time, wherever they are, and it doesn’t involve hiring more people or buying expensive hardware.
Today’s workforce, from the oldest to the youngest, values flexible working conditions: both in terms of working hours, and working location. According to a 2016 worldwide survey by Vodafone, 83% said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity. Flexible workers are happier and fresher: instead of being worn out by commuting and a rigid work pattern, they are free to complete work when and where they are most suited.
To support this mobility, CIOs need reliable online communications solutions that enable employees to access the information they need, when the need it. Traditionally, technology such as the desktop and desk phone tied workers to the office, making such flexibility impossible; after all, who could ensure they had a duplicate computer and landline at every location they might be in?
The growth of software-based unified communications (UC) has changed this: with workers able to access all of the information and capabilities they need from any device, anywhere, at any time, they can be just as productive at home or on the road as in the office.
This has made UC the crucial technology to underpin the office of tomorrow. Newer software-based approaches mean that organisations can offer their workers all the communication channels they need, from VoIP to video to email and messaging, over any device and at a low cost, without the need to invest in costly and complex hardware and infrastructure.
This is key as there’s no one form of communication that facilitates better collaboration than others. For instance, older workers may gravitate to calling and conferencing, while Millennials are known to prefer chat and messaging above all others.
Despite the benefits of a mobile workforce being apparent, many employees are reluctant to work from home. This is largely in part to workers feeling that what they do remotely won’t be held in the same regard as what they do in the office.
This needs to change and this change must come from the top. Indeed, it is already a priority at many companies.
If workers are to be comfortable working remotely or at home, they must feel that they can connect to the office without a hitch, whether by phone, email or video, whenever and wherever they are. The more cost-effective and easy to implement and manage remote working is, the more successful employees, and consequently their employers, will be.
Paul Clarke is UK manager at 3CX, a provider of managed unified communications services.
In this guest blog, Anthony Sutton from Cobham Wireless discusses how venue owners can maximise visitor satisfaction by improving mobile network availability.
It’s match day! You’ve managed to get tickets to the biggest sporting event in the calendar year; you’ve navigated queues to get into the stadium and spent a small fortune on a burger and a drink. You get to your seat, and reach to your phone to share the action with your friends and family and check the team line-ups … but you’ve hit a brick wall.
You struggle to share your experience over WhatsApp and Facebook, or even gain the basic 2G or 3G internet connection needed to check the BBC Sport website for the latest team news. The mobile connection is infuriatingly slow as a result of thousands of other supporters using their phones for similar purposes, exhausting the network’s bandwidth. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure of the stadium obstructs mobile phone signals, impacting the quality of coverage.
This is a frustration that many sporting spectators experience, making it difficult for mobile phone users to find their friends in a packed arena, post to online social groups or keep the track of the score in concurrent games. Failing to provide reliable mobile phone coverage can tarnish the reputation of a stadium and seriously diminish the spectator experience.
With the FA Cup Final taking place this weekend, Arsenal and Chelsea fans will be traveling to Wembley with hopes of capturing their experience of this showpiece and sharing it over social media to envious friends and family. Fortunately for these visitors, Wembley Stadium’s owners have taken measures to ensure that fans receive good 4G and 3G connectivity, regardless of the high demands placed on the network.
Distributed antennae add mobile depth
Wembley selected mobile network operator EE to install a system that could provide visitors with the reliable, superfast connectivity that people take for granted in most other venues. This weekend, football fans will experience first-hand the benefits of a DAS (distributed antenna solution), which enables high-capacity 2G, 3G and 4G wireless coverage. This makes the solution an ideal choice for environments such as stadiums in which a great number and density of users access a network simultaneously.
Other stadium owners are also making investments to improve mobile connectivity for visitors. For example, Lords offers Sky’s Cloud Wi-Fi, Twickenham’s 2014 renovation included Wi-Fi deployments and England’s Football League also announced last year that free Wi-Fi was coming to venues.
However, turning to Wi-Fi for mobile connectivity is not a winning solution. Typically, to access these services a visitor would have to fill out online forms and provide personal data. Most people much prefer to connect with their native mobile operator without the hassle of registration and security implications of connecting to a public Wi-Fi network; a service which is usually severely impacted by poor connectivity speeds.
Stadium owners should instead follow in Wembley’s footsteps and invest in DAS, which divides coverage into sectors in a given environment. This allows mobile operators to overcome the challenge of providing indoor coverage to the whole stadium, by treating the project as a collection of smaller challenges. Multiple base stations send radio signals to an Optical Master Unit (OMU), converting the signals into light, before distributing via fibre to one or more remote units within each sector. This flexible approach helps provide both coverage and capacity solutions; seamlessly channeling mobile operators’ networks into inherently difficult locations.
With a summer of sporting events and music gigs planned, visitors to Wembley needn’t worry about access to high-quality coverage. However visitors to some other stadiums may not be so confident. Failing to provide adequate coverage means that stadium owners are missing out on an easy win.
Following initial investment, a system like that used at Wembley will deliver operational and capital savings to stadium owners in the long run. The cost of adding additional capacity or extending geographical reach further down the line is low in comparison with other systems.
Mobile users now expect to connect to mobile services reliably and quickly, whenever and wherever they are. This is of particular importance in a stadium environment, and can greatly impact the quality of fan experience.
Anthony Sutton is director of coverage at Cobham Wireless
Have you ever considered that software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) may be the technology equivalent of the men’s “skinny suit” fashion trend? In the right context, it’s a flattering fit. But some enterprises just wear it the wrong way, and the result is all-around discomfort.
Before a business decides to step into SD-WAN, it’s important that IT leaders understand how to tailor it for appropriate use. Unfortunately, many companies make some big mistakes when it comes to suitably deploying SD-WAN.
IT leaders and staff tend to assume the following:
- Moving to SD-WAN means they can replace all their private WAN solutions with pure broadband internet connections.
- Saving money is guaranteed, end of story.
- Getting up and running with SD-WAN – and keeping operations going smoothly – is a simple proposition.
Now for the reality…
Sadly, each one of these statements is a myth. The chain of false beliefs typically flows from the original misconception that choosing SD-WAN means your enterprise can ditch its hybrid WAN infrastructure.
It can’t – not, that is, if your IT team hopes to be able to meet its responsibilities to provide guaranteed performance for business-critical applications. It’s unreasonable to expect to be able to do that by relying solely on SD-WAN over best-effort broadband services.
True, SD-WAN provides some excellent techniques and technologies to boost speed and uptime when using run-of-the-road broadband connections. But they’ll only improve the situation up to a certain point. When those efforts have been exhausted, your business will be left to suffer the effects of service outages or degradations for what could be a very long time – and broadband providers aren’t exactly known for offering mean-time-to-repair guarantees! Can you really afford that?
Opting for dedicated internet access services to assure consistent broadband performance could help assure application requirements are met – but at what cost? The answer is: Probably a lot more than you were expecting to spend when you thought that the move to SD-WAN meant that you were buying your business a future of cheap and compliant broadband connections.
Suddenly, the money you thought you’d save by doing away with high-performance private WAN connections starts slipping through your fingers.
Money and labour become issues, too, around deploying SD-WAN appliances on your network and optimising use of the technology. Certainly SD-WAN capabilities like zero-touch provisioning are meant to streamline operations. But they’ll only be effective in that respect if you have – or hire – network architect talent to design all the parameters for your applications in advance and program them into a central orchestrator, so that they can be downloaded to the SD-WAN hardware.
Those talents will need to be called upon every time you need to make changes or additions to configurations, as well. Maintenance struggles also surface when IT departments find themselves having to deal with dozens of different broadband internet service providers (ISPs) across the globe for break/fix issues.
Get SD-WAN Right
Of course, if you get the SD-WAN cut right, so to speak, the technology will be an excellent option for your business. How to do it? For starters, continue to leverage two or more types of connections in a hybrid WAN setting – think private multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) as the primary option for your critical real-time applications, backed up by broadband.
Or, for remote sites or smaller offices that don’t need a lot of bandwidth, it might make sense to combine broadband services as the main SD-WAN function with network options that support IP virtual private network (VPN) encrypted tunnels. That permits direct private network connections so that when necessary, users can quickly track from the internet onto a global private line network to ensure quality of service and data integrity.
The important thing to realize is that SD-WAN is not a broadband panacea, but rather should be viewed as a sophisticated means to leveraging multiple types of WAN links for top price-performance value. That value is maximised when paired with various deployment mode options (cloud among them) and dynamic application control, which makes it possible to switch traffic from one link to another when a certain threshold is reached and then revert back to the main path once the coast is clear again.
Bottom line: SD-WAN will help make the hybrid WAN function in the most flexible, cost-efficient and performance-enhancing way possible.
Now that you have the correct frame of reference about how to best use this new technology, you can make an informed decision when updating your corporate WAN.
Paul Ruelas is director of network product management at Masergy.