Computing

Virgin to focus on business net as providers welcome new net neutrality debate


As his firm battles against UK comms incumbents, Virgin Media O2 CEO Lutz Schüler has called for his firm to reimagine connectivity and sharpen its focus on business networking.

Speaking at the Connected Britain conference, Schüler professed his pride in the way the Virgin Media O2 fixed gigabit broadband estate has developed. It is now reaching more than 10 million homes across the UK, with an intention to upgrade its entire footprint to 15.5 million homes before the end of 2021, he said.

As well as maintaining the roll-out programme, Schüler noted that the company had to integrate the fixed assets with mobile “in the right way” and “come up with the right proposition for it”. He said he was a big believer in data and digital and that the added information about customers would generate a huge transformation and huge benefit.

Yet within the integration of the assets, Schüler stressed that there would be an added focus on business solutions, something which has not happened to date. “Looking ahead, the future is full-fibre to the country and 5G everywhere and also using 5G on the business-to-business [B2B] side – we are under-indexing heavily on B2B,” he said. “We have collected market share, so again it’s a case of bumping and we will come up with products and services here.”

Schüler was joined on the conference stage by BT Group CTO Ben Watson and Vodafone UK CEO Ahmed Essam, and all of them recognised the challenge and opportunity of having to deal with a new secretary of state at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as they attempted to progress their fixed and mobile assets throughout the UK.

Although a number of issues existed, the executives flagged up an area of concern in the need to have a new conversation about network neutrality following the data explosion driven by the increased availability of their ultra-fast infrastructures.

Asked what he would say on meeting the new secretary of state, Nadine Dorries, Watson said it was “critically important” that the UK comms industry and government opens a new conversation about network neutrality with the UK government and regulator Ofcom because he felt the current regulatory system for supporting services was weighted far too heavily towards the global IT giants.

“I think, for us, the shift to fibre is much about reliability, great continuous service and sufficient speed and I think that’s where we see a critical opportunity there,” said Watson. “But on net neutrality, right now 70%, if not more, of the traffic that we deliver to our customers comes from three providers. In essence, over the last 10 years, they’ve taken about a third of the share of wallet out of our industry, and I just think that net neutrality has been their friend and our foe during that period. So, we are looking forward to that consultation and we’ll certainly be submitting some views.”

Vodafone’s Essam agreed with the need for a redefinition given the current state of the market compared with when the first regulations were drafted. “When net neutrality was started, it wasn’t with 5G use cases in mind, and it limits the use of technology, such as how do we do slicing with 5G and how can you deliver some services?” he said.

“I think you need to enable the service provider to differentiate your service without discrimination. And what’s making the trade-off is not taken into account as per the definition today, because it’s not taking the use cases into consideration.”



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