From broadband to blue chip

Marketing Manager, Emma Ashcroft, tells us more about Exa Education, an ISP company based in Bradford, West Yorkshire

What sets Exa Education aside from other internet service providers (ISPs)?

Exa is the only education focused ISP in the UK today, so forgoing the home user division of the ISP market to avoid split focus. This combined with a pioneering period of growth focusing on customer service and content filtering – both being multi award-winning and multi-nominated areas for Exa – means the company now serves over a very respectable 10% of the UK schools’ connectivity market. We facilitate this by providing the same award winning internet connection options to educational organisations as we do blue chip corporations. Our connectivity services cover the full range of options open in the UK today, so from Broadband to multi-gigabit leased lines – all of which can have our content filtering service, SurfProtect, inclusive at no extra cost.

Can you tell us more about SurfProtect?

First created in 2004, SurfProtect is Exa’s own in-house developed constantly evolving, state-of-the-art, content filtering system. Designed from the ground up specifically with the education and business communities in mind, meeting and surpassing local authority standards, SurfProtect is the future of content filtering today as to what you can view over the internet and, more importantly, what you don’t want your pupils or staff to have access to. SurfProtect does not require any equipment or software in your network, instead intercepting traffic entering and leaving Exa’s network, i.e. the internet.

What changes in the education sector do you see affecting the ISP sector?

The number of schools converting to academies is continuing to grow steadily. With the focus on cutting funding with local council comes the freedom for schools to manage their own budget, including making the choice to lease ICT solutions from companies rather than have their ISP be local authority. Schools can do this at any time and save thousands of pounds a year, but may not know about this until they make the break to become an academy. Furthermore, once running as an academy, cost efficiency across the board will be even more under the spotlight as academy management may be the next stage with academy inspections and so forth. Given the enduring craving for IT, schools and technology are becoming even more co-dependent, so ICT solutions will have to be fast, safe, reliable and affordable.

The internet has become increasingly vital in education over the past decade, and no longer is it just used for browsing the odd website. Exams, financial and student information, remote working, online lessons, learning platforms, streaming video, Voice Over IP and many more services are now required constantly every day. As a result the old style systems and infrastructure deployed many years ago by local authorities or Grid For Learnings are no longer able to deliver what schools need speed flexibility- or costing-wise, so we will see more and more schools look to move to companies like Exa over the coming years.

What other products are in the pipeline at Exa?

Earlier this year we attended the Bett Awards 2014, during which we highlighted our new, centralised customer experience platform which combines all of our panels into one, easy to use space. Also demonstrated was the now internationally available, multilingual SurfProtect cloud as well as the new SurfProtect interface due to be rolled out in early Q2. There will also be many more enhancements to our existing product range over this year, which existing customers will benefit from at no additional costs.

What future trends do you see as concerning for ISP companies?

With each advance in technology comes new terminology for us to grasp. A new phenomenon for educators is to consider socio-technical implications of the learning process. Curriculums are going to expand as we become more globally minded and networked, learning in more geographically displaced locations to our teachers. The IPv6 ready infrastructure we’ve been quietly focusing on for the last five years supports this shift to greater network dependency for educating, so when next gen IPv6 will replace the finite IPv4 addresses (of which there are relatively few left) our network will be unaffected. The far more mind expanding problems of multi online personalities will create a minefield of people for the education sector to manage. Cyber bullying, internet unsafety and increased exposure from simply being networked for longer periods of time will create further stress for those learning as well as those teaching. Online safety will have to become even more watertight for internet in schools.