How far will intelligence redefine connectivity?

Here we explore how intelligence is being applied across the connectivity spectrum and the extent to which clever connectivity will redefine value for end users and the channel, and provide a long-term competitive advantage for resellers and MSPs.

It’s fair to say that the ICT channel is largely unsure about what the future holds in terms of AI and the rise of intelligent networks. So we garnered the projections and insights of five leading channel organisations to help get a handle on what we can expect in the not too distant future. According to Mark Toman, Client Director, BT Wholesale, the concept of connectivity intelligence is based on high speed, low latency networks supporting a myriad of cutting edge technologies from AI to IoT. “What’s exciting is how 5G and next generation multi-cloud networking brings significant opportunities for resellers and end users,” he said.

Toman noted that network slicing will enable resellers to deliver new and improved capabilities for customers in the 5G standalone era, and offer tailored connectivity with different requirements on speed, latency and reliability for specific applications. He also indicated that edge holds much potential for the channel. “Edge can alleviate demand from an organisation’s own servers and eliminate unnecessary data from the cloud, and low latency can be maintained despite extremely high traffic from data-hungry apps and platforms,” he added. “With ever-increasing digitalisation and emerging tech like AI and extended reality, this demand will only increase.

“Extended reality is on the brink of a huge revolution that will be delivered by edge. For example, it can support mission-critical industries such as data processing in hospitals and remote monitoring of assets in the oil and gas industry. With edge you have a network in a box which offers a seamless experience. That said, it’s all well and good striving for connectivity intelligence but a fresh strategy is needed where we bring the ecosystem together and work with partners to deliver bespoke solutions for customers.”

To succeed the channel must remain hyper-focused on the problems end users need solving, pointed out Toman. “We need to work backwards with specific use cases in mind to make technology solutions like edge a reality and drive value for businesses,” he added. “Importantly, we must not overlook that central to this innovation is reliable, scalable and secure connectivity.”

Jola CEO Adrian Sunderland interprets connectivity intelligence as a combination of intelligent devices that configure themselves based on the connectivity type available and the reseller or customer requirements. “Intelligent devices keep themselves up to date and can adopt configuration changes as required, all without manual configuration by engineers,” he stated. “Independently of the device, intelligent networks provide the right type of network services whether a private closed network, an Internet access network or a hybrid private network with secure Internet access. Intelligent tariffs provide the right price dependent on usage and all of this should be managed by an intelligent portal, cradle to grave, regardless of the underlying provider.”

It is imperative for channel partners to be thinking about what makes their connectivity options stand out from the crowd.

Sunderland is seeing more and more tenders where intelligent connectivity features are listed as being mandatory. In particular, end user accessible management portals, APIs and flexible commercial models are being specified by prospective customers. “We recently did a connectivity deal for 1,400 sites in the UK where the intelligent device element alone added around £40k of upfront margin thanks to the self-configuring nature of the devices compared to the reseller pre-configuring and pre-staging in-house,” added Sunderland. “It is imperative for channel partners to be thinking about what makes their connectivity options stand out from the crowd. Channel partners should also be thinking about the total cost of ownership and margin opportunity.”

Catching the trends
When assessing the trends that are shaping the future of connectivity, Dale Parkinson, Managing Director for Connectivity at Giacom, also defines intelligent connectivity as the convergence of AI, low latency 5G networks and IoT applications enabled by dense fibre at the edge of the network. “Much of the conceptual thinking about what intelligent connectivity enables has been with us for a number of years – think smart cities, smart manufacturing, smart healthcare etc,” he said. “The challenge is that we need all of the components to be deployed at scale and available at a reasonable cost for widespread adoption. We may be a few years away from this but the pace of change and innovation is increasing at a phenomenal rate.”

Therefore Giacom is wasting no time in laying the foundations for more intelligent connectivity solutions, and the future role of AI across the connectivity spectrum is also high on Parkinson’s agenda. “Practical, scaled applications are demonstrating use cases that we can understand and use in our everyday work and personal life,” added Parkinson. “What is less clear is the evolution and adoption of AI over the medium-term, the role it plays and how or if we should seek to regulate and control its use.”
Parkinson observed that the adoption of intelligent connectivity, be that AI tools like Copilot or 5G network technologies, is growing by the day, but he identified near-term limiting factors which are important to address. “Firstly, the commercial build out of FTTP networks is accelerating but we are still some way off having the compute power at the edge of the network required to offer AI-enabled services at scale,” he explained.

“Secondly, there remains circa nine million copper-based services that need moving to a fibre or digital alternative. This conversion of copper to fibre will drive demand in all markets for AI-enabled tooling and improve our partners’ ability to deliver AI-based services.”

The answer to the question of whether channel partners should be thinking more ‘intelligently’ about their connectivity options is an easy one to answer, believes Parkinson. “From conversations we’re having with channel partners the industry is already thinking more intelligently,” he commented. “One of the greatest strengths of the channel is its ability to make the best out of a constantly changing and evolving digital landscape. The transition into a future of AI and intelligent connectivity will be no different.”

Rising requests
Matt Mimo, CEO, 7ARDIS Wholesale, has witnessed a growing number of connectivity intelligence requests from IT professionals across the board. He believes that public sector focused resellers have a ‘great opportunity’ to demonstrate connectivity intelligence through FWA and Private Mobile Networks (PMNs). “The mobile opportunity offers channel partners maximum potential for new revenue, whether that is SIMO or solution wraps,” he stated. “Offer customers the choice between SIMO and solutions with software. This is the new standard that even small businesses expect in today’s procurement process.”

Mimo also noted that intelligent connectivity has strong year-on-year growth, historically with low data M2M solutions. “But with the rising supply of third party software vendors smart mobile solutions can be enjoyed across any dynamic SIM, globally,” he commented. “5G is not essential. Connectivity intelligence refers to the strength of an IoT network, meaning LPWA technologies can be used to deploy intelligent connectivity.”

7ARDIS’ AI journey began in 2018 and the company has now hired an AI coder to support reseller growth. “AI will play a big role in decision making,” added Mimo. “The channel needs to learn and understand connectivity intelligence and how AI can be leveraged.”

A growing number of service providers are focusing on gaining greater intelligence about their networks and using it as a differentiator when delivering connectivity, observed Highlight COO Martin Saunders. But he says human intelligence is ultimately the most telling factor in a service provider’s connectivity proposition. “AI will help drive greater efficiency and automation in the management of networks and infrastructure,” he stated. “This will be most apparent at the core network level. However, when dealing with individuals at a branch level AI will certainly help with initial diagnosis and fault finding – but ultimately, the way to keep customers happy is to provide human interaction.”

Intelligent humans
Therefore Saunders does not expect to see the emergence of entirely AI-driven service providers any time soon. “You will have AI doing the automation and optimisation, the simplest tasks,” he added. “You will then use your intelligent humans to drive the innovation. Highlight is focused on trying to help non-technical members of staff access the knowledge and intelligence they need. This enables them to properly look after their customers’ services, make sensible decisions about what needs to happen on the network and advise on how to improve it. Channel partners will be using their knowledge, experience and intelligence to ensure the best possible network service.” 

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