Marston’s Telecoms, the in-house ISP of pub and brewery chain Marston’s, has rolled out a Blue Coat PacketShaper Wi-Fi traffic manager across its 1,700 pubs and bars. The aim is to improve the experience of customers using its Wi-Fi network, to optimise mission-critical internal systems, and to cut costs by dynamically reshaping bandwidth in response to demand.
Although it may seem strange for a pub chain to have diversified into telecoms, the business unit was created to generate cost savings for Marston’s during the recession, according to operations director Rob Derbyshire.
It was set up as an ISP, buying wholesale from Openreach and providing services from TalkTalk and Plusnet. Derbyshire says it saved Marston’s hundreds of thousand of pounds annually.
More recently, Marston’s Telecoms has built on its experience of serving its parent’s needs to become a wholesale ISP on its own right, supplying both TalkTalk and BT products.
It currently provides basic line rental and landline calls, carrier pre-selection, ISDN2 and ISDN30 lines, broadband, non-geographic numbering, and mobile phone and data services.
“This has improved margins for us through selling into other businesses,” explains Derbyshire. “Other pub companies are an obvious place to start, but we have also been talking to businesses that aren’t in hospitality or retail.”
Thirsty users demand beer and bandwidth
Marston’s philosophy during its 180-year history has been to meet the needs of its customers, and persuade them to stay a little longer for a final drink.
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With this in mind it has been providing Wi-Fi access for customers for some time now, the idea being that allowing customers to access the internet as they would at home will make them feel a bit more at home, says Derbyshire.
The wireless network also enables Marston’s to offer innovative services to make the job easier for its staff. It has deployed a flexible system for staff to take orders and payments on Samsung Android tablets while they are at a table, instead of returning to the more traditional serving station.
This speeds up customer service and means drinkers no longer have to get up and go to the bar if they do not want to. And that in turn encourages more spending.
But the company encountered a number of challenges in providing wireless networking services to customers at 1,700-strong pub estate.
It very quickly found that as well as checking their email or using Wikipedia to cheat at pub quizzes, some patrons were using the Wi-Fi to stream content such as video, gaming and music.
This not only compromised service quality for other customers, but also disrupted Marston’s electronic ordering and payment services, and other business applications.
PacketShaper reshapes Marston’s network management
We could have done filtering on a router-by-router basis but it would have been cost-prohibitive
Rob Derbyshire, Marston's Telecoms
PacketShaper is billed as a cloud-connected WAN and internet appliance that provides clear visibility of applications and web content across the network, coupled with application-level quality of service.
It integrates with Blue Coat’s WebPulse service to provide real-time traffic discovery and classification for apps, websites and web pages.
This intelligence allows network owners to configure bandwidth caps for disruptive applications – in Marston’s case services such as BBC iPlayer or YouTube – and undesirable content for a family-friendly environment.
“We could have done filtering on a router-by-router basis but it would have been cost-prohibitive,” says Derbyshire. “Blue Coat addresses that by giving us the ability to control content on the network.
“We recognise a small minority of people might come in and start downloading large files but our customers really want to do things like social media and to catch up on sports news, etc. It’s about augmenting what they would already be doing in the pub. Blue Coat sets us up to be able to manage that with ease.”
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PacketShaper also allows Marston’s to reserve bandwidth for operational applications and allocate it fairly at peak times, while still allowing customers a fair share of the pork scratchings.
“Customers come to the pub and want to stream live football matches on their devices. We needed to support this added load on the network and make sure it didn’t affect our payment and ERP applications. PacketShaper gave us the control we needed to make this happen,” Derbyshire says.
These capabilities came into their own during England’s second World Cup match against Uruguay in June, when Marston’s saw major traffic spikes across its network, says Derbyshire.
Derbyshire’s team is now using the enhanced visibility of its network activity to assess the impact of bandwidth-hogging apps and plan adequately for the next spike, or dip, in traffic.
Saving a packet
The ability to plan for the future and dial bandwidth provisioning up or down as needed has proved particularly beneficial for Marston’s Telecoms’ bank account.
“In the broadband market you have to buy expensive backhaul and without Blue Coat we were open to bursting, which challenged our business model,” Derbyshire says, “so being able to control bandwidth consumption was important to us.”
So far, the cost-savings for Marston’s in bandwidth management costs alone are well over £50,000. Further savings made on router administration have added another £10,000 to £20,000 to the pot.
“And if you compare it with the cost of doing everything individually on each wireless router, it pays for itself,” says Derbyshire.
Indeed, six months out from deployment, Marston’s Telecoms claims to have already delivered a full return on its initial investment, and is reaping further benefits in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty – and real ale sales.