08 March 2022
The Solent Network Framework contract - partly funded by the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) programme through the Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – is pivotal to radically improving Portsmouth City Council’s (PCC) network infrastructure.
In what is one of the UK’s most densely populated areas - with census data showing that there are 5,100 people per square kilometre - a fit for purpose network is seen by the Council as key to realising its digital ambitions and supporting its City Vision.
With this, a new Full Fibre deployment project is well on the way to completion, successfully consolidating PCC’s previous network solutions onto a single 132 km high speed network. This has the capacity to support and future-proof the WAN-based solutions required by the Council for delivering voice, data, internet and cloud services, ultrafast broadband, and access to the HSCN network.
The new network not only provides unlimited connection speeds to Council sites, including schools, but also represents a long term investment that will give PCC assured connectivity speeds for at least 20 years, without the need for regular re-investment in WAN services. The new infrastructure will also make it easier for the wider community including businesses and residents to take advantage of Gigabit capable services across the City.
In 2018, having identified the requirement for a new dark fibre network infrastructure and managed lit fibre services, PCC approached several potential network solutions suppliers with the following requirements and objectives in mind:
• To implement a state-of-the-art high-capacity Fibre network infrastructure with managed WAN-based network services
• To provide a fit for purpose future-proofed network capable of supporting Portsmouth’s ongoing digital transformation and City Vision
• To help deliver Social Value to citizens located in and around Portsmouth
In December 2019, following a competitive tender process – including the UK’s major telecom vendors – PCC awarded MLL Telecom an initial five-year network services contract, to work alongside CityFibre, the dark fibre infrastructure provider chosen separately by the Council. PCC selected MLL due to the company’s experience of partnering CityFibre and track record in successfully delivering similar fibre transition and transformation projects to local authorities. MLL’s flexibility and ability to offer a comprehensive suite of WAN overlay services on the new fibre network was another deciding factor.
The MLL solution
MLL’s network solution is based upon “lighting up” the dark fibre and providing a live internet service to the nominated sites. Services are then delivered from the MLL core to provide enhanced security to Government standards, Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) services and safe and secure access to cloud services. Furthermore, MLL is providing PCC with a Software Defined overlay service which gives PCC a greatly enhanced ability to manage, monitor and control network traffic.
During the interim period while the fibre infrastructure was still being carried out and therefore prior to Full Fibre site connection being commenced, it was necessary for MLL to build and deploy a fully resilient core network based on local exchanges in Portsmouth. Once fully completed MLL will be running MPLS and SDWAN services over the new fibre.
Between April and December 2021 MLL transitioned more than 150 PCC sites to Full Fibre connections. These comprise Council office sites, schools, libraries and CCTV assets previously connected to PCC’s MPLS PSN. Phase 2 of the project will see MLL light up full fibre services to a further 126 sites by November 2022.
PCC now has its own dedicated, high-capacity WAN service. In the foreseeable future, the Council will no longer face the headaches, costs and time consumed in managing network upgrades or replacement contracts. MLL’s core WAN services offer a range of additional data network, voice and security solutions for enhancing the digital experience for PCC employees and the citizens of Portsmouth.
At the same time, the Solent Network provides MLL with a platform for delivering new 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) applications to help deliver new services to the whole community, and with this, provide demonstrable Social Value. For example, in enabling low-cost WiFi in care homes and sheltered accommodation; supporting the retraining/upskilling of the local population.
Any major network transition and digital transformation project not only presents unique technical challenges but also logistical ones. If not adequately addressed, these can quickly impact on network roll-out and service delivery. A highly efficient approach to Project Management is a prerequisite. In the case of the PCC Solent Network project, the following specific challenges and MLL’s Project Management solutions to them are noteworthy:
• Finalising the core network design with CityFibre and effectively integrating two separate supplier service contracts together to deliver a seamless service to PCC. This was overcome by close co-operation between all parties.
• Gaining commitment from all PCC stakeholders to take up the new service. This was successfully addressed by MLL’s flexibility in approach, assisting with design and going the extra mile in helping create specific solutions for certain types of site such as CCTV.
• Setting expectations with DCMS on the project roll out and meeting their demanding timelines for completion. To meet these, MLL increased engineering resources including working over evenings and weekends, and ensuring close liaison with PCC, CityFibre and our other key suppliers.
Throughout, MLL’s PMO and Operations Delivery Team worked closely together. In addition, a Lead Field Engineer was assigned to undertake the initial surveys at the CCTV locations, to provide comprehensive information for enabling remedial works to take place prior to the rollout of the CPE devices. For continuity the same Field Engineer was assigned to the installation and commissioning phase of the rollout, overseeing additional Field Engineers to meet the requirements of the project.
The Solent Network is a framework contract that can be easily extended to many other Public Sector and Third Sector organisations in and around the City. With this, exchanges in Cosham and Havant have already been connected to the new network and MLL is working proactively with PCC to identify where else additional fibre services can help others to realise their digital aspirations, including the NHS, Emergency Services, Higher Education and the Charity sector.
Simon Whitworth, Senior Network Architect, Portsmouth City Council said: “MLL has worked extremely hard to meet PCC’s ambitious expectations for the LFFN project. The journey from contract to realisation has taken various turns but throughout MLL has engaged closely at multiple levels across the Council, with CityFibre and with DCMS. The customer supplier experience has been exceptional.”
David Bowles, Chief Information Officer, Portsmouth City Council added: “MLL’s technical expertise and efficient project management approach has ensured the delivery of the first phase of the project, on time and on budget. Over time, we are confident our new network will help us demonstrate and deliver increasing Social Value to a diverse range of communities in and around Portsmouth. PCC looks forward to MLL’s support and expertise in the years to come and it continuing to offer valuable insight for ensuring we maximise future digital opportunities.”