Interview: Marston's pulls pints and pushes telecoms

Marston's is a leading pub chain in the UK who launched their own telecoms service around five years ago to significant cost-savings. TelecomsTech (TT) caught up with Operations Manager, Rob Derbyshire (RD), about their story so far and the technology they use to provide a reliable and connected experience for all their customers.

TT: Why did Marston's feel the need to start its own telecoms service?

RD: About five years ago we decided, when the recession was around, that one way of saving money was to stop buying wholesale telecoms services. My boss decided to set-up Marston's Telecoms to generate some savings for the group, and did that by registering with Ofcom and being able to buy wholesale lines and that was great - we generated some savings for the group - and then this time last year we took it a stage further by implementing our own broadband network through buying two wholesale services off BT and TalkTalk then delivering those to our own customers.

TT: How has Marston's dealt with the influx of traffic generated through the big summer sporting events?

RD: In terms of this summer, we haven't seen a huge spike in traffic. We saw around a 10% increase in what we'd normally see when it was England's last official world cup match - there was a bit of a spike there on the network - but we over-provision backhaul capacity anyway to make sure service is going to be maintained.

TT: What kind of cost savings did you find through use of the Blue Coat proxy?

RD: It's several hundred thousands of [British] pounds per year, and it's recurrent because we'd [usually] still be paying retail rates. It's probably somewhere between £300,000 - 500,000 a year in terms of net savings to the group. That's  just on the basis of selling it into our pubs as well, that's cost-saving, but when we get out to market and start bringing in external businesses then that's incremental profit for the group.

TT: Why did you decide to use their technology to improve performance?

RD: There's two factors really. The first is making sure our commercial position was protected in terms of buying back-haul bandwidth from the carriers - it's quite important to ensure we provision the right amount of bandwidth and Blue Coat helps us manage that and be able to see quite easily how much we are  consuming.

The other key thing is that it's got content-filtering built-in to the box. There's always a desire within the business to implement this on our guest Wi-Fi, but before we had our own network, we'd have to do this on an individual per router basis; applying software license packs, configuration... which would have been a real nightmare. Blue Coat has allowed us to do this centrally.

TT: Do you block customers using very high bandwidth e.g. Downloading movies .etc

RD: In times of congestion we do scale back on say Netflix, because clearly that has little to do with our business. Other than that, most of the management is just around prioritising said applications. We prioritise connections into our head office, and the other thing we prioritise is our PDQs for credit card transactions.

It's a fairly open network. We want our customers to have a good experience. The only thing we actually block  are the URL categories we don't want people looking at in our pubs which are designed to be family-friendly.

TT: How is security managed? Are mission-critical systems separated from the customer?

RD: On the broadband network they converge, but in the pub environment we put two lines in. We have one running the back-office function, and one running customer Wi-Fi. The two are separate and that keeps it all nice and safe.

Additionally, the back-office connection is VPN'd into head office anyway so we have overlayed security. But no, we don't just hook a wireless access point up into a single broadband in the pub - that would be inviting trouble.

TT: Has Marston's Telecom looked into hotspot 2.0 for seamless "pub crawl" connectivity?

RD: Potentially. The Wi-Fi kit we have in our high-end pubs is capable of providing hotspot 2.0 capability - it's not something we've looked at but it's good that it does. At the moment we're more concerned with rolling-out a well-provisioned service which does what our customers need and want.

It's potentially a way for us to monetise the Wi-Fi and actually get some money back for it.

Do you think other brands should start their own telecoms service? Let us know in the comments.

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