We speak to John Vickery, BT’s Principal Technology Partner for Enterprise, who explains how the company is harnessing innovation in enabling digital transformation…
The rapid advance of technology has disrupted virtually every industry you can think of and yet the core aims of any enterprise have remained the same. ‘How can we improve our bottom line, sell more product, receive better insights and make better strategic decisions? How can we improve productivity?’
These concerns are unchanging although the landscape is shifting dramatically.
BT’s Enterprise business offers real and tangible outcomes for its customers amid this turbulent digital disruption. Echoing the new company-wide strapline, John Vickery, BT’s Principal Technology Partner for Enterprise explains: “We’re going beyond limits to deliver digital transformation for our customers. AI, IoT, data, cloud, edge compute; we bring all of that together into a single ecosystem, through 5G, to deliver the technological capabilities that our customers need to achieve their outcomes.”
BT’s Enterprise unit is shifting its business from being seen as a provider of connectivity products such as broadband, ethernet and SIM cards – to a business that can really deliver and assure business outcomes at a time when many businesses don’t necessarily have the confidence to invest in new technology.
“We bring the whole proposition to give them that confidence,” Vickery explains, the week following BT’s massive ‘Beyond Limits’ rebrand. “And if we need to, we’d love to develop a proposition where we can actually commit and assure those outcomes on an SLA (service level agreement) basis.” Vickery is the Principal Technology Partner for 5G, edge compute, private networks, and all the new innovative, disruptive technologies helping BT’s Enterprise business deliver new outcomes for its customers. Vickery looks after this portfolio of innovation, which 5G brings together into a single ecosystem to deliver the technology capabilities that its customers demand; and there are plenty of them. BT’s enterprise clients range from massive corporates all the way through to SMEs, microbusinesses and sole traders.
“We’ve got 1.2 million business customers to speak to, something like 700,000 SMEs, corporates, major corporates, public sector, defence, Scottish salmon farms, you name it. There is a huge range of businesses.”
The CTIO (chief technology and information office) holds a unique place within BT, with one in each line of its business; Global, Consumer and Enterprise. “We’re a team of experts and consultants who go out and work with customers to get a deep understanding of their requirements,” says Vickery. “We’ve got a specialist who looks at utilities, and someone who looks at manufacturing and production. It gives us a meaningful insight into where they’re looking to technology to deliver their business objectives such as improving productivity, introducing automation and cutting costs. They’re looking to partners to give them the answers because they’re wondering how to pick the right technology. We’re the kind of technology business that gives them the answers, as well as the confidence, to invest in the right areas.”
Belfast Harbour is a 2,000-acre port that also houses university campuses, museums and filming locations, with a real ambition to drive and innovate with technology. “At the moment, a lot of people talk about 5G campus networks and how to build out in places like airports and ports. We’ve worked on some really innovative projects with them (Belfast Harbour),” says Vickery. “We delivered the fastest 5G network into the harbour that we’ve deployed to date. Within six weeks we had five carriers of 4G and 5G over the top. We’re delivering ultrafast speeds of 700 800 megabits per second to enable their engineers to do crane maintenance routines through augmented reality headsets. Now, all of their workflows are loaded on software working with our partner Ubimax. If they come across a problem or there’s a fault, they can use voice commands to get immediately connected to a remote expert. It helps to set themselves up for the future so they can increase their productivity for these kinds of engineering tasks.”
BT was the first company to launch 5G services in the UK in May this year. “Many customers want to find out how they can leverage 5G,” says Vickery. “It’s about that dialogue. What do you need? How can edge compute help you? How can AI help you? How can cloud help you? And what we’re trying to do is build a proposition for those customers so they can pick from a modular set of capabilities that we can then package up into a solution. Security, data sovereignty through to reductions in backhaul costs and lowering latency – every customer needs something different. We work with each customer to understand their specific needs and make sure we’ve got our proposition, and the horizontal capabilities, to support them.”
Healthcare is a big focus area for BT’s Enterprise business which is currently acting as a service integrator to one of its NHS customers. “One of the things we’ve been looking at in Birmingham is a connected ambulance. We were the first in the UK to deliver a 5G use case for ambulances where you have a trained sonographer in the hospital guiding a paramedic who isn’t trained in sonography. Through the use of a haptic glove, the sonographer within the hospital can control a joystick and that gives the paramedic signals in the hand so they know where to move the scanner. If you can start bringing the diagnostics and clinical care to patients remotely over 5G, without the need for hospital conveyances, then not only do you improve patient care, productivity and reduce waiting times but you also remove the traffic on the roads and improve the environment.”
Vickery is very passionate when it comes to 5G. “5G is actually going to help people save lives,” he says. “We put a 360-degree video inside an ambulance so the diagnosticians and the clinicians in the hospital are able to feel like they’re in the ambulance and can see everything around them. Now, doing that with 360-degree video and transmitting all that data in real time is quite complex. So, we’re working with a partner called Voysys who ensure the immersive experience for the remote diagnostician is as accurate as it can be. When you are interacting with paramedics in an ambulance and guiding their actions, network latency needs to be consistently low which is why 5G is so important for this type of use case, as it enhances the interactive experience and ensures content delivery in real time. The remote clinician also has access to patient records, vital signs, ultrasound imagery and a close-up camera all embedded and accessible from within the immersive reality in real time. It really is a fantastic demonstration of what 5G can do for healthcare. We’ve also been working with Ericsson and Kings College London in that trial, and Ericsson played a big role on the development side particularly around the platform that underpins the technology. We also had fantastic support from our Applied Research team at BT’s labs in Adastral Park (Suffolk).”
“The research team are a real asset for us and the innovation and investment in R&D from this team is just staggering. We are the 3rd largest tech investor in research and development in the UK spending £2.5 billion over the past 5 years. We have over 5,000 patents in our portfolio and last year alone we filed 103 new inventions. I love sharing this message with our customers as it really demonstrates our commitment to innovation and positions BT as a real forward-thinking and innovative technology partner.”
Vickery was in Zurich recently, speaking to a company called ZPMC, who are undertaking remote crane operations.
“You need 18 high definition cameras to be able to operate a crane remotely from a control room,” he explains. “These cameras combined will need one gigabit per second on the uplink, which is massive. Only 5G can provide that. This isn’t a kind of use case where, if you had a really good 4G signal, it would work. This is a disruptive use case, which needs pure 5G to make it work. So, you need a consistent latency of 18 milliseconds. You’re actually taking people out of a dangerous situation; by climbing up to the crane every morning. You’re pulling people out of the process and centralising your operations while increasing your productivity. You could have a crane operator who can be working two or three cranes from a control room and that increases productivity and the bottom line.
“We’re looking at the horizontal capabilities that have applications across multiple verticals so we can make it bespoke and collaborate with our customers to make it work for them. But the capabilities we invest in and develop and build, we can use over a whole range of sectors. That’s really where the strength lies, in the scale of BT.”
Partnerships are hugely important to BT and Vickery acknowledges that it can’t deliver every outcome itself. “We’re very strong in connectivity. Everybody can appreciate that. We’ve got great managed service capability. We can do the whole end-to-end orchestration piece. Where we’re moving into is around the compute, the cloud and the edge. And so, we want great application developers and device partners to be able to plug into that ecosystem. We want to create an edge ecosystem where application partners can very easily distribute their software to our customers. We’re really keen to work with partners in that space.”
One of the companies BT is working with, from a research perspective, is MobiledgeX. “They have got the ability to deliver globally orchestrated edge cloud, so it makes it very easy for application developers to distribute their software at a global level, working with partners like BT to provide all the underlying connectivity and service integration. And that’s a really interesting proposition. Some of the other things we’re looking at are around convergence. We always get asked this question: ‘Do I need 5G in-building? Do I need Wi-Fi 6?’ Obviously, we’re a huge Wi-Fi business, huge Wi-Fi provider. We’re also the UK’s leading 5G network operator, with 5G in more places than any other provider. When our customers ask us, ‘Do I need 5G in my building? Do I need Wi-Fi 6?’, we just talk about what the differences and benefits are. Where convergence takes us is in using both. You can use Wi-Fi and 5G, to get the best experience possible on that device through fixed wireless convergence.
“The innovation we’re doing with organisations like Casa Systems in our core network, will provide a much better experience. Your phone will be able to switch seamlessly between Wi-Fi and 5G without you having to do anything. It’s all about the user experience. We just want to give our customers a solution that works out the box, to deliver the best possible experience wherever they are.”
A really interesting area for Enterprise is linked to its Wholesale business. It’s called neutral host. “There is a model for in-building connectivity which is experiencing exponential growth and it’s called neutral host,” Vickery explains. “Let’s say that Lesley owns a corner street café with no mobile signal at all, and all her customers start going to Jean’s café down the road who has perfect 4G on every network. Now, Lesley wants 4G because it impacts her bottom line, but she can’t discriminate which network her customers are on; some of them will be on EE, some of them will be on Vodafone, O2, or Three. Well BT Wholesale, which is part of Enterprise has a great track record of providing backhaul connectivity for the UK mobile operators on a wholesale basis, and obviously that capability lends itself very well to this concept of neutral host.
“Ultimately, what we want to deliver is a radio for Lesley’s corner cafe that she can just plug into her broadband to give the people in her cafe 4G or 5G connectivity whatever network they’re on. Now that is not an easy thing to do, but there is a group called JOTS, which is the Joint Operator Technical Specifications forum and they write the shared specifications for multi-operator systems in the UK, and we’re working very closely with them to innovate on new disruptive ways of achieving that goal. One of the partners we’re working with is Mavenir and they’re really pioneering the neutral host model for virtualised RAN; part of the open RAN standards.”
BT recently joined ORAN Alliance, which supports the move towards open interfaces for mobile and neutral host; probably the first and the most compelling use case for virtualised RAN. “It means that operators don’t need to work together on shared systems. With virtualised RAN, each operator can have a logically separated network end-to-end, but they can deliver that network over common infrastructure, thus enabling them to get into locations which would have previously been outside of their budget. And even better, it enables these business customers, where they’ve got the public coming in and out freely, to deliver in-building connectivity at an affordable price.”
Security and trust form a significant component of BT’s portfolio and they are proud to be market leaders in cybersecurity. “We are a really trusted brand and I think that’s important for our customers, especially when they’ve got critical data they need to move around.” Vickery is certainly passionate about the innovation BT can produce for its clients. “CTIO is one of the most agile teams in the business. We’re a small team, more like a start-up and people love coming to work and thinking, ‘Actually, I’m doing something no one’s ever done before.’ We’re delivering world firsts. We’re co-creating, getting deeper relationships with our customers while delivering better experiences for our colleagues. We’re really engaged and motivated to come to work. But ultimately, it’s about what we deliver to the UK as a whole. We’re going beyond connectivity. We’re helping give our customers confidence around trust, identity and security; ultimately protecting the UK and the citizens of the UK. I think that’s what going ‘Beyond Limits’ is all about.”