Thompson on full fibre and why partnerships must be more tight-knit

Richard ThompsonComms Vision Platinum sponsor TalkTalk Business’s strategic focus is to help partners navigate and thrive during a period of unprecedented comms industry transition, with full fibre at the vanguard of the transformation, according to Wholesale Managing Director Richard Thompson.

Wholesale channels are, and will continue to be, the growth engine of TalkTalk Business. They represent 80 per cent of our revenue, and we will continue to grow market share and expand the market, and pivot from copper to fibre. We’ve always been the disruptor - calls, broadband, Ethernet. Now, we’re delivering fibre for every business as the enabler for FTTP delivered through Openreach and altnets to provide full UK geographic coverage. We’re focused on supporting our partners as they navigate through the changing landscape from copper to fibre. Our strategy and all the changes we are making have a focus on delivering the fibre future and supporting our partners as they make this transition.

Our strategic approach is to work with multiple fibre networks such as Openreach and CityFibre, and other altnets. And we’re going to work much closer with our partners to run campaigns together. That means a change in engagement. The difference will be the need to work with our partners on how we transition customer bases over to the new technology, and how we unlock geographic capability as the footprint unfolds. We will maintain our challenger mentality and commercial flexibility to provide the right coverage in the right places at the right pricing using alternative operators and supporting our partners.

Looking at the great transformative companies (not just in UK) they are quite narrow in their focus. It’s all about doing what you do – brilliantly. TalkTalk’s focus is on delivering great connectivity, and being focused, disciplined and highly automated to deliver this. We want to be the wholesale connectivity provider of choice. That’s our vision. The wholesale business will effectively be the cornerstone of TalkTalk Business.

We all need to be driven by how well we can work together and how quickly we can jointly adapt and exploit the opportunities that become available. The market changes rapidly and partners need to be thinking with a 2025 mindset now in order to design their capabilities and processes to set up for future success. Our ambition is to navigate partners through the changing landscape and help prepare them for future success with a view to 2025. This brings a sharper focus on how we support partners in jointly going to market. For example, we’ve been working hard to implement a more agile approach to service and support.

Covid-19 has accelerated the transition from copper to fibre and we are going through a period of significant change in which the need for fast, reliable connectivity is more important than ever before. While working from home we need to deliver presentations and have video calls. This requires more bandwidth and greater reliability – FTTC has 40 per cent less faults than MPF (TalkTalk data) and FTTP has 50 per cent less than FTTC (Openreach data). The mass adoption of remote working means that there is a business grade connectivity option for the home, and that touches every industry and every customer that you have. You can create packages to support that.

Businesses need affordability – and they see improved productivity as an enabler for cost efficiency. Organisations are also thinking a lot more about the ‘need’ for daily journeys to the office. Not only is home working a win-win for the environment, but also for businesses. This all brings into focus a fundamental change in the underlying access technology, and whenever there’s a period to change, there’s a period of opportunity. All existing customers are requiring more and more bandwidth to run more and more applications. Through Covid, we saw that connectivity is part of the critical infrastructure. It is fundamental to everything that end customers are running in terms of their organisation and digital strategies.

Covid-19 and the shift to home working has driven adoption of cloud services and collaboration technologies such as Slack, Teams or Google Chat; and video conferencing technologies like Zoom, Cisco WebEx or GoToMeeting. We’re all adopting these technologies to ensure we get exactly the same experience at home as we do in the office. This move to the hyperscale players with globally hosted and managed infrastructures has been critical and underlines the shift to cloud.

Businesses also want a simpler, frictionless customer journey that is highly automated end-to-end, allowing them to offer the best digital experience to their end customers. AI capabilities and robotics are huge trends at the moment – so it’s important for us to understand how we plug into that to deliver the best possible user experience for our end customers. There is also the aspect of consumerisation of IT, and people are now wanting a simplistic commercial structure that they can offer to their own customers. As a carrier, it’s important that we have an understanding of the customer experience that they’re trying to deliver and support them in that journey. So things like APIs, portals etc become important. We’ve also implemented a more agile approach to service and support with our own customer desk.

Digitisation gives people a way of accessing new markets and connecting customers to solutions in a much easier way for a better experience. It does reduce barriers to entry, so somebody with a great idea and ability to build a great website with a fantastic customer experience and leverage all of the APIs that we are developing for FTTP could come into the market and create a great proposition that could be disruptive. So it is key for partners to keep abreast of the times.

Nor is that all: More new technologies are in the pipeline. 5G is highly complementary to wired full fibre connections. Fibre will always be the better option but it may not extend to the whole of the UK, so 5G has its place in the overall connectivity landscape. Then we have Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi coverage. It brings back into focus Wi-Fi itself, not only because there’s an explosion of connected devices in a premises, but if you’ve got a FTTP connection that’s running at 500 megabits per second, but your Wi-Fi is still running at less than 100, then you’re not delivering the full benefit of the connectivity that you have for your business. Wi-Fi 6 is a complementary technology as we move to higher bandwidth. Satellites could play a vital role as the world’s mobility patterns change from driver-operated to autonomous vehicles. Some scenarios to build FTTP may not make commercial sense, and satellites might be a viable alternative to a mobile connection.

There is a huge role for resellers, SIs and VARs to successfully operate within the evolving market. Businesses need to simplify their operations and focus on doing a few things brilliantly. The role of the SI and reseller is knitting together all of the complexity and delivering something very simple to the end customer. The channel exists because it provides a brilliant service, it combines lots of individual elements to offer a brilliant solution to the end customer. The primary challenge for partners is that they are going through a period of transition. The underlying infrastructure which supports their business model is changing. But change can be viewed as a challenge, and an opportunity. That is how the channel grows.

Our role is to support partners through that transition and to support their go-to market. We’re engineering our sales, marketing, and product functions to execute that go-to market in the best possible way. At TalkTalk Business, we don’t really see transitioning to a new normal as a challenge. We see it as an opportunity to work differently, and look at how we can maximise this opportunity. It also comes back to engagement, and how we work together through this period of transition. New market segments will open up which partners will be able to identify because they know the market better than anyone. They can focus on specific parts of the market and during this period of change adopt, adapt and exploit with our help. Since Covid we have become much closer with our partners. In five years time, we’ll be even closer than we are today because we have jointly navigated our way through this changing landscape.

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