Vodafone has been selling services with "military-grade" levels of security to parts of the British government since 1989, when telecom for most organizations was just a fixed line into a building. Today's businesses must deal with the whole mix of broadband, mobile and machine-based communications. Add in a pandemic, and the changes to working practices it has wrought, and top-notch communications security is a big deal outside government circles, too.
Cue the launch of a new business unit promising those organizations the same high levels of security that Vodafone has offered to government customers for the past 31 years. Vodafone Business Security Enhanced (VBSE), as the division is called, will cater to an addressable market worth about £1 billion (US$1.3 billion) in revenues each year, says Steve Knibbs, the head of VBSE. He is confident Vodafone can boost annual revenues from about £70 million ($93 million) previously, when government demands were the focus, to about £150 million ($200 million) in the next two-and-a-half years. "We are on track to do that," he tells Light Reading.
Security, of course, is already a component of Vodafone's offer to business customers. What distinguishes VBSE is an extra level of guarantees that could appeal strongly to providers of critical national infrastructure and organizations with a repository of sensitive data. Knibbs says Vodafone has effectively taken a lot of existing knowledge and services and created another "onion layer" around them.
That means all the VBSE services rely on separate data centers, network operations centers and field engineers from the main Vodafone UK business. In that respect, VBSE can take advantage of the assets and expertise it has already developed in the government sector. As far as the technologies go, it can draw on the resources of the broader Vodafone business.
Three specific offerings are promised: cyber enhanced, IoT enhanced and mobile enhanced. As well as managed firewall and encryption services, the first includes a full monitoring application that Knibbs describes as the "CCTV of your network," saying it will provide alerts about vulnerabilities and external threats. IoT enhanced ticks a list of features including heat detection, smart buildings, body-worn cameras and predictive maintenance.
"That is taking IoT capabilities developed and looked at by the business and bringing them into our area so we can integrate them," says Knibbs, indicating one way in which his business unit can benefit from access to Vodafone's service portfolio and expertise. "It is breaking it apart and rebuilding it in a secure way."
The third element, mobile enhanced, covers end-to-end encryption and data storage and includes support from cybersecurity experts. VBSE is also offering a few specialist applications through partnerships with external companies. One of those is aimed at supporting a secure WhatsApp service, for example.
While COVID-19 was not the spark for VBSE, it has been a catalyst for investment in the business, says Knibbs."Data is growing exponentially and the amount of points where you access data is growing as well. Then you overlay COVID and the fact people are working differently," he explains. "And, unfortunately, there are people that want to do things to organizations, whether that is industrial espionage or casual hacktivists."
Critical national infrastructure is a real focus for VBSE, not least because providers are so keen to avoid the hefty fines that regulators could impose for non-compliance with security rules. But Knibbs says anything classed under the "key worker" list during the UK's original lockdown earlier this year would be a prospective VBSE target.
Notwithstanding Vodafone's experience in the government sector, some might doubt a telecom operator's ability to challenge security specialists in a market with such exacting needs. Knibbs acknowledges Vodafone is still best known as a mobile brand, and that security is a "new conversation" it is having with many of its clients. But that government experience and its business relationships have given it a route into the conversation, he says.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading