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An Interview with Jamie Hayes

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We sat down with Jamie Hayes, Mobile Network Operators Director here at BT to get his thoughts on what is an exciting time for the telecoms industry. Read on to find out what he had to say on the move to all-IP, small cells and the 5G revolution.

With so many offerings and new technologies available, just how much of a pivotal time is this for the telecoms industry right now?

3G and 4G were pivotal changes and without them, we wouldn’t have the apps-driven world that we enjoy today with brands like Instagram and Uber, and the new jobs they have all created. 5G is an even more pivotal moment to capture new profit pools that couldn’t have been available with new apps and use cases. Over and above that, demand on all the MNO networks has grown at least 60% year over year, so the first key use case for 5G is in fact simply keeping up with capacity demand. On that, BT Wholesale put over 2000 5G sites live in 2019 and the demand was absolutely customer-driven – connecting users in dense urban areas first to relieve capacity.

BT is at the forefront of the 5G revolution. Just how much is this going to change the world as we know it and what benefits can we expect to see?

Beyond the constant craving for capacity in the consumer market, what we will use connectivity for in the business market is able to evolve much faster with 5G and in unexpected ways. Each MNO is experimenting right now to assess the most viable profit pools. A common way to do this innovation is to extend into industry verticals to see how the technology can bring value to different sectors. Dramatic improvements like connected ambulances for patient monitoring and even surgery to start remotely before the ambulance can arrive with the surgeon are being explored and trialled. But there are many progressive challenges in industry that fixed internet didn’t yet solve and that mobile 5G will address. For example, factory automation where assembly line units construct items over a wide area, and where fixed connectivity can’t reach easily or cheaply, is a great use case and even 4G innovators like Ocado and the BMW manufacturing plants have invested here.

As 5G becomes more understood in industry, we expect many more sectors to require mobile solutions as part of their operating model, bringing further efficiencies to their business. Another example is where BT recently trialled 5G connectivity into Belfast Harbour – the internal IT group then created applications harnessing mobile connectivity that their fixed solution wouldn’t allow. The limiting factor of the fixed wires wasn’t there anymore, and the 10x capacity and 4x latency - lag - improvements meant the developers weren’t limited there anymore either. Other innovators include firms like the water board in Northumbria, who put remote monitoring for leakage into their sewerage networks, as 5G radio consumes much less battery life than previous technology, they can effectively bury the units and not have to charge for up to 10 years, connected sensors monitoring waste water flow. None of this was possible with prior technology and we are just seeing the potential now in industry.

What three things are you most excited about coming about as a result of 5G?

Firstly, most obviously the main thing is the investment over the next decade to unleash the best for UK society, and the constant innovation from new ideas and new entrants into our sector – everyone is in mobile now!

Secondly, I believe the social benefits for 5G connectivity will start to outweigh the negative aspects we have experienced in earlier 4G days. I see the new generations in society take a very practical approach to how they manage privacy, mobility, and their own mental health. And it is our responsibility in society to set a framework for this just like we do with physical health, so we can treat social media, bullying or anxiety like we do treatment for a physical illness - that’s the way we can prevent it and treat it, by recognising our illness and dealing with it. My own experience volunteering with the charity Young Minds has shown me approaches to this that I think will become much more common  and that we can help ourselves with as a society.

And lastly, speaking of the next generation, I’m looking forward to eventually not having to drive my own car – I’m a useless driver - or to have to teach my daughters how to drive. Maybe their own cars will do it for them by the time they want to go out themselves without their Dad!

How important are small cell deployments to the rollout of new mobile offerings and how would you benchmark BT against the rest of the industry?

With around 50k masts in the UK covering 98% of the population, and joint government and MNO initiatives in the next 3 years to add up to another 1k to extend this coverage further, you could say the beginning of the end of standard macro cell deployment is upon us. Each MNO faces a mature, saturated market with competition for coverage on this basis. Small cell deployments (which we started as far back as the London Olympics in 2012 almost as a ‘cottage industry’,) last year in 2019 added a full 1k sites to the MNOs grids. And that was just in 4G outdoor solutions, without the 5G impact being felt yet - either indoor or outdoor - as the spectrum wasn’t released then.

We can’t see anyone else in the UK who has come close to the volume and scale we’ve achieved, but even so, we are rapidly evolving our portfolio to keep ahead of industry. We’ve learnt that small cells handle as many connected users as macro cells through our work placing them into areas such as Notting Hill in Carnival weekend. We’ve learnt they carry signal up to 5 miles through our work placing them in beach-side fronts including Sennen Cove in Cornwall. We’ve learnt they carry more traffic than the macro layer and councils will support digital inclusion in their historic boroughs through placing them in zones like Princes Street, by Edinburgh Castle walk in Scotland. So small cells have become not just noise, but an important tool for the MNOs to improve highly targeted customer experiences of their network. Take a walk from BT’s London HQ down by the Southbank or to the Houses of Parliament, keep your eyes open out there and you’ll see BT Wholesale small cells carefully tucked into all sorts of innovative locations!

It looks to have been a great year for the Mobile team, what would you say are the main reasons for the teams’ success and what will be your 3 key priorities in the forthcoming financial year

The first vital ingredient in the success of our customer relationships is our understanding of each MNOs’ strategic priorities. Each business is shifting; it’s still a mobile-first approach, but also acknowledging it’s not mobile-only – and we’re supporting each MNO to take their customers forwards in their digital transformation, including key steps such as moving to an all-IP world.

Secondly, we deliver at scale, and some of the biggest opportunities for each MNO customer lie in sectors such as retail and construction. We’ve helped them deliver strong results which have been the key to our own performance – notably delivering our largest-ever volume of ethernet orders, with more than half going to the retail industry, as well as over 1000 small cells, and over 2000 High Capacity sites for 5G, all inside 2019.   Without doubt, the biggest way we add value to each MNO is by underpinning the mobile network. We sit at the very heart of each business.

Thirdly, the excitement around 5G is clear, we’ve been working with each MNO to make sure they have the capacity to cope with customer demands, most notably supporting testing with the provision and configuration of 10 GB access circuits and phase synchronisation timing for the 5G launches made in 2019 – and there’s more to come.

We’ve achieved a lot together, and it’s clear each MNO gains from our relationship with them – customer satisfaction has remained high year on year. The metrics that guide that satisfaction rating include business needs, innovation and partnering, proof that we’re delivering on all fronts. 

As 2020 draws closer, we’re already looking ahead to how we can have even more success with the mobile network sector, and help capture the 5G market for waves, edges and slices as each company grow its business further. 

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