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UK comms providers prep for permanent changes to customer demand and use patterns

Pandemic sees communications services industry experience surge in demand across distributed locations, escalating security concerns and major changes to customer strategies, with nearly three-quarters of UK providers regarding remote working as a permanent change

Virtually all (98%) UK communications service providers (CSPs) have experienced increased demand during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, and 72% believe that in the post-pandemic environment their customers will continue to operate with employees working from home to some extent, according to research from A10 Networks.

The UK part of the International communications service provider insights 2021 was the first in an international research project across five countries. It was undertaken by Opinion Matters in January 2021, sampling 1,251 senior IT professionals from a range of communications service providers, including mobile, fixed-line telecoms, cable, converged, mobile virtual network and over-the-top operators.

In addition to anticipating permanent changes to customer demand and use patterns, CSPs are seeing changes to procurement strategies and face intensifying security threats. They have changed their investment priorities as a result.

Following the almost overnight pivot to home working caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an unprecedented shift in customer needs and a fundamental change in both geographic and temporal use patterns as home workers adapted working hours to fit around home schooling and caring duties.

At the same time, this shift represented a rapid expansion of the attack surface, leaving providers battling on two fronts: how to meet demand and how to scale up safely.

The survey found that the CSPs saw an immediate effect on demand and distribution, with 98% experiencing increased demand as a result of the surge in remote working – the average increase being 53%.

Almost all respondents (98%) said the pandemic had accelerated their transition to a more distributed network, while just over three-fifths (61%) scaled up infrastructure across the network. Almost the same amount scaled up in specific high-demand locations. Just less than half (48%) redistributed network capacity to accommodate changes in traffic demand, while 44% invested more heavily in security technologies.

And as their customers adapted to an altered digital environment, there was a commensurate change in the requirements of UK communications service providers, with more focus on security, continuity and cloud adoption.

The survey revealed that 60% of CSPs regard customers as now more concerned about business continuity and resilience and almost the same number have seen enterprise customers splitting workloads between traditional telcos and non-telco cloud platform providers to minimise risk to service availability. Just over half saw customer demand for online platforms such as customer service portals increase, with the same number saying they now have a larger pool of customers and subscribers to manage.

Also, as a result of the changed circumstances, 57% are requiring end-to-end security service-level agreements (SLAs) across cloud and datacentres for any chosen supplier, and 36% of CSPs said customer expectations about security from network service providers had increased.

Indeed, UK CSPs recognised the imperative to robustly reinforce security, not just because there is a significant legacy network that must be protected, but because threats were escalating and customers were increasingly aware of the risks of business interruption and the associated downtime and costs. One of the biggest threats facing organisations during Covid-19 is distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting digital services.

“Our research shows UK providers had a dual focus on scale and security, which is set to continue as they make strategic adjustments to the evolving landscape, accelerating their transition to a more distributed network,” said Adrian Taylor, regional vice-president at A10 Networks, commenting on the direct impact of Covid-19 on the industry.

“Customers are on high alert to the threat of service disruption and are demanding higher security and business continuity standards as a result. They are also being proactive about reducing dependence on individual UK providers by splitting workloads,” he added.

And going forward, users were found to have included non-telco providers in procurement strategies to take a long-term approach to managing this dependency. Regarding changed investment priorities, 59% of respondents had paused investment plans, while 58% planned to increase investment in security. Just over half (54%) said upgrading firewalls and other security appliances to combat new threats was their highest-priority security investment to 2022 and just under half (48%) were reducing investment in their own networks and increasing use of public cloud providers.

“Communications service providers in the UK are reacting astutely to growing customer focus on security and resilience by ramping up investment to protect those areas that have been exposed by the expanded attack surface,” Taylor concluded. “Maximum uptime and data protection are paramount for organisations operating in the remote work environment. Investment in these areas will therefore pay dividends for providers facing increasing competition from non-telco operators.”

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