The past, present and future of connectivity

Written by: Sure Posted: 27/05/2021

FV_Sure_AlistairBeakBy Alistair Beak, Acting CEO, Sure Group – published in the Future View supplement included with the May-July 2021 issue of Businesslife

The Channel Islands have always enjoyed being connected. Our historic affiliations to, at various points, the United Kingdom and France have meant that cultural, political and familial ties have formed key parts of the islands’, and islanders’, identities.

Telecommunications may seem like a modern means of staying connected, but Jersey’s first telephone exchange opened in 1888, and Guernsey established its States Telephone Department in 1896. The phrase ‘early adopter’ wasn’t around back then, but if it had been, the islands would certainly have fitted the label.

That legacy has carried through the last century up to the present day, where the islands are home to some of the most advanced telecoms services in the world. Islanders’ desire to be connected has been enhanced by the Covid-19 pandemic, as the power of connectivity brought people together, enabled a sense of community and facilitated the transmission of vital news updates.

In 2021, many services we provide are used by business customers – from SMEs and freelancers up to multinational operations, and everything in between. The pandemic has, of course, seen a sea change in business practices, and telecoms services have been instrumental to the evolution. 

The rise and rise of flexible working

Flexible working has long been regarded as the future of work, and we’ve witnessed its transformation before our eyes as businesses have obtained rapid proof-of-concept thanks to the enforced remote working of the lockdown periods. Whether they like it or not (and the vast majority do), every business is now digital in some way. 

With the islands’ economies doing relatively well throughout 2020 and into 2021, IT departments have to take an enormous amount of credit for working so quickly and effectively and rolling out flexible working programmes for those businesses that did not have them.

The level of economic resilience displayed throughout the pandemic simply wouldn’t have been possible without the digital services that are on offer. We envisage flexible working, as part of hybrid workplaces, being the preferred operating model of most businesses going forward, so had been offering solutions to enable this for some time.

Throughout the pandemic, secure access to cloud-based business systems and the ability to route calls to softphones, mobiles and remote landlines has kept communications flowing, and most callers are unaware that they are dealing with home-based agents.

Meetings have been just as effective virtually as in the office, using software like Microsoft Teams. Though technology will never entirely replace the need for face-to-face meetings, and nor should it, the benefits of a blended approach using the most appropriate format for each meeting is a sensible way forward.

FV_Sure_illoIncredible network performance

Supporting all of that technology, and keeping the islands connected, are the networks – and they are the building blocks of our business. 

Our ‘always-on’ network is recognised as critical national infrastructure for the islands and the Channel Islands’ unique geography enables connection to the world through dedicated points of presence (PoPs) in London and Paris, with links back to the Isle of Man via a PoP in Dublin.

Multiple resilient networking routes between all locations ensure that customers are best connected and protected if one of the links fails, and the network is engineered to provide continuity of service through diverse international routing options.

Not everyone realises that the islands, and Sure’s telecoms networks, are part of the transatlantic and global internet communications system, which is the backbone of the world’s internet. That’s something to be proud of and harks back to these islands’ legacies as early adopters of technological advancement.

All of that infrastructure is incredibly complex and requires significant annual investment to maintain. 

Sure is currently progressing with our latest upgrade – a £3m investment programme to provide a huge increase in core network capacity, resilience and security. 

In technical terms, we are upgrading our existing undersea cables, which currently have a capacity of 10 Gbytes, to 100 Gbytes of capacity – that represents a ten-fold performance improvement.

In reality, this is a massive step change for our network, which begins at the core but will ultimately benefit every household, family and business across Guernsey – where the cables come ashore.

The value of telecoms

This year we’re marking 125 years of telephone services in Guernsey, a milestone that is made all the more significant by the pandemic’s impact on connectedness. Across the Channel Islands over the past year we’ve really felt our responsibility to keep islanders connected and to support our communities.

We added an investment of £20,000 to our Community Foundation to support those most in need across the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, and we made specific efforts to provide mobile and wifi access for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Our role in bringing people together was certainly highlighted by the pandemic, and that really showed us that, while we’re passionate about technology, it’s what the technology does that makes a difference to people’s lives.

People may not understand increases in capacity, or how the cloud works, or why a unified comms system is going to be the future of their business.

But they do understand how quickly a Google search happens, or how Teams has enabled them to check in with colleagues when they may have been feeling the strain of the pandemic, or how a WhatsApp video call was the only way to ‘see’ family members for many months.

That highlights the true power of telecoms services, and with the core network upgrade currently under way and an imminent change to our network speeds, we are confident of our ability to keep people and businesses connected long into the future.

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