Dark fibre vision: A disruptive platform for change

Platforms for success and dealing with disruption in the digital age are two big themes at this year's gold standard Comms Vision event, and according to Rob Hamlin, Commercial Director at Gold sponsor CityFibre, dark fibre platforms fit the vision perfectly.

Seismic change in the telecoms industry is happening right under our noses, at both a regulatory and technology level. But it's important to recognise just how epochal the copper to fibre revolution is for the UK. It's the first time in history that the telecoms industry has moved from one set of infrastructure to another. "Not only does this switch mark the beginning of the end for copper based networks and technologies, it fundamentally changes what the most successful comms and IT channel businesses are focused on selling day-to-day," said Hamlin. "For others it points to a need to upskill sales teams to extol the benefits of pure fibre-based solutions, platforms and applications, just as proficiently as they sold PBX technology in its heyday."

But change is nothing new to our industry and those who have thrived historically are the ones who see it as an opportunity to differentiate, not as a threat to the status quo. "Dark fibre as a platform for change is a vital part of this," added Hamlin. "It's already available in 37 cities from CityFibre with more set to follow. Dark fibre is an infrastructure revolution that simply cannot be ignored.

"Traditionally, comms providers have differentiated themselves by packaging up fairly standard products in different ways. As they evolve to using dark fibre platforms and related products, fresh choice emerges and bandwidth problems simply go away. It's no longer a case of 'can I use this product?'. If you want it, it's capable of delivering all you can eat, all of the time."

A dark fibre platform gives ultimate control over equipment and services, setting forward thinking, tech-savvy comms and IT channel businesses free from the like-for-like managed services that are currently dictated to them.
"Those who ignore dark fibre and continue to try to squeeze out extra margin from, or differentiate themselves with the same old products are going to find themselves competing against a wave of rich, innovative services, delivered over a modern network architecture that are truly fit for the future," commented Hamlin.

"Adapt and embrace it though and they become ambassadors of the revolution, transforming the digital futures of millions of homes and businesses, today and for years to come."

Examples of CityFibre's partners differentiating themselves with dark fibre-based active products include Diva Telecom and Triangle Networks. "Recent feedback to Triangle from one media sector customer was crystal clear: Triangle's ultrafast, gigabit capable products are walking all over every other service they've ever used," said Hamlin.

Those who are able to develop their own dark fibre based products Ð owning the level of service they provide alongside Ð will reap the greatest rewards, according to Hamlin. "You only need to look at what our partners Exa Networks are doing in the education sector and how Commsworld is transforming the digital future of Edinburgh," he added. "The key message is that investment in dark fibre infrastructure can benefit everyone. What it boils down to is staying abreast of change and being willing to embrace something new. There is plenty of support for those who choose that path."

Digital technology advancement continues to evolve the way people and businesses communicate, transact and manage their lives. It's revolutionising the way children learn and the way public services are delivered. It's also enriching our lives more and more every day with a depth of information that is becoming more accessible through more and more connected devices and 'things'.

"Digital tools mean that small businesses are no longer small," said Hamlin. "They can punch well above their weight and compete on a level playing field. Just like their larger competitors they can be available to the customer 24/7 through automated web interfaces and cloud subscriptions. With the right capacity, their capability becomes almost limitless."

As fibre network infrastructure continues to underpin digital technology advances, David and Goliath stories about small businesses will become the norm. They will be fuelled in parallel by the intelligence and capability of the equipment that lights the fibre, keeps connections secure, splits/shares bandwidth, boosts it on demand and more besides. And, while infrastructure based services are waiting to be provisioned, intelligently deployed alternative technologies like 5G can also be used to bridge the gap and demonstrate true service and value to customers.

"As dark fibre becomes even more widely available, managed service equipment suppliers who previously relied on relationships with network operators for the lion's share of their business are also recognising the need to serve a far wider range of companies with a more varied product set," noted Hamlin. "These suppliers are already hungry to almost 'leapfrog' their former customers and work direct with dark fibre strategists to help them differentiate and win."

How they deliver at scale to UK comms and IT channel businesses large and small is yet to be fully realised. This in itself offers those businesses a chance to influence the future and make sure the needs of their customers are properly heard and met, in the most cost-effective way.

"Although we were founded to deliver dark fibre we've recognised that not all of our partners are ready to consume it in its raw form," explained Hamlin. "To help them we've developed a range of differentiated active products that operate across our network. These are services that challenge the need for a traditional leased line, EFM or Ethernet service Ð bridging the gap between broadband and delivering enterprise-grade reliability and service at a fraction of the cost."

At a network build level, insight and intelligence is at the heart of every 'well-planned' Gigabit City build. Knowing where businesses congregate, where public buildings, exchanges and mobile sites are located is always the starting point. "Armed with that information we gather demand data to spot other nearby clusters that would benefit from our network build," added Hamlin. "This can include areas with a history of poor connectivity provision or where copper based network reliability has been susceptible to external factors far too often, such as regular flooding."

According to Hamlin, CityFibre is a 'living example' of the vision it has for all of the businesses in the UK. It is not burdened by 20 years of legacy systems development. "We live in the same digital world as our customers," said Hamlin. "Our enterprise-grade systems are modern, online and in the cloud which means we're able to adapt and respond far more rapidly.

"Those same systems provide our partners with access to intelligent network-asset aware tools and checkers and facilitate accurate online order progress and in-life reporting. With easy interfacing our systems have the capability to serve the information needs of our partners and provide service upgrades at the click of a mouse."

Speed of development also characterises the fast moving mobile world. But when it comes to the vital role that mobile plays in our connected futures, there is a hurdle. Legacy network and product choices aren't designed to support 5G in the most cost and performance effective way. "But investments, such as ours, in alternative modern fibre infrastructure is already enabling mobile network operators to use dark fibre platforms to connect masts and plan for wide-scale small cell deployment," explained Hamlin. "And deep within that is a partnership model with the potential to anchor many brand new city network builds."

Hamlin cited Hull as a 'great example', where, through MBNL, Three UK has transformed its network infrastructure, moving away from a capacity constrained tactical network to a dark fibre platform-based solution that has boosted network performance by 380 per cent and delivered notable cost savings.

"It's painfully obvious that legacy infrastructure simply can't cut it," said Hamlin. "We've got where we are by understanding the frustrations that exist in the market and by nurturing strong, insight-rich relationships with partners that allow us to design and build with confidence. It ensures that once our dark fibre platform for transformational change is in place, those partners will sell across it at scale."