MLL Telecom successfully delivers Full Fibre WAN service to public sector authorities in East of England – despite short timescales and the unforeseen challenges of COVID-19
In September 2018, following a competitive tender process, MLL Telecom was awarded a substantial contract to deliver and manage a Full Fibre WAN service on behalf of EastNet. This is the East of England Public Services Network (PSN) operated by a partnership of public sector organisations comprising Councils and Health Trusts across Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes. The first phase of the contract – successfully completed in June 2020 – required the migration and upgrading of more than 550 existing ‘last mile’ legacy technology connections to Full Fibre.
In 2018, in line with its core digital transformation strategy, the EastNet partnership recognised the necessity to upgrade its access network to Full Fibre. This was due to the growing bandwidth demands of current and future digital applications as well as its commitment to enabling a centralised approach to accessing and sharing core services including firewalls and managed Wi-Fi. The migration requirement was made even more pressing as it coincided with the rebranding of the existing long-established Cambridge Public Services Network (CPSN) partnership to EastNet.
Full Fibre was viewed, therefore, as essential for empowering users and future-proofing the efficiency and quality not only of council services throughout the region, but also schools which account for more than half of EastNet’s user base together with public libraries and Northampton Health Authority.
All EastNet sites had previously relied on a mix of legacy ADSL copper and hybrid fibre coax (HFC) connections – managed for more than 15 years by a major telecommunications service provider. The initial phase of the new seven-year framework agreement with MLL would therefore focus on removing the limitations imposed by these outmoded technologies while at the same time ensuring a seamless transitioning of the existing Wide Area Network from the incumbent provider – with minimal disruption to EastNet users and zero unplanned downtime.
Furthermore, as a critical component of the migration project, MLL and its digital infrastructure partner, CityFibre, had to ensure a fit-for-purpose core fibre backbone footprint was in place to support Full Fibre services across the whole region. This required a significant up-front financial commitment by MLL and CityFibre for the connection of legacy infrastructure to newly installed high capacity fibre in certain areas, including between Huntingdon and Northampton as well as in the Cambridge city area.
All the above was required for delivery within the space of just nine months – a tall order at any time but especially so with the unforeseen challenge of COVID-19 to navigate during the crucial latter stages of the project.
From the outset, MLL appointed a Project Management team to ensure a highly accountable and transparent transition and migration programme. This included regular progress updates and meetings with EastNet’s Management Board and the individual partner authorities concerned. In addition, ongoing liaison with Cambridgeshire County Council’s SPOC team – responsible for the centralised management and delivery of services over EastNet – was a prerequisite.
- MLL conducted a detailed due diligence exercise across EastNet’s asset registers over several months, identifying and resolving discrepancies, updating documentation to create an agreed list of assets for transfer to MLL.
- In advance of migration, MLL’s Technical Design Architect worked closely with EastNet Services team to agree the technical migration process as well as detailed testing and acceptance plans. MLL’s NOC engineers were also involved to gain additional insight into the existing network’s stability and dependencies, ensuring MLL would be fully prepared to provide ongoing support, without impact.
- The physical migration also necessitated MLL to have access to all network devices so that these could be set-up and made visible on its SolarWinds monitoring platform and the asset inventory imported to the company’s Cherwell ITSM.
- Phased migration of sites only commenced once satisfactory test pilots at selected sites confirmed circuits and equipment could all be accessed, proactively monitored by MLL’s SolarWinds platform, and supported by MLL’s NOC in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
Following the successful migration, the EastNet partnership now has a centralised, secure Full Fibre WAN service in operation across locations in Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes.
A major factor in the project’s success has been the close working relationship MLL forged with the SPOC team and the individual EastNet partner authorities. This ensured that the migration was seamless to end-users and that network services continued uninterrupted, despite a change in supplier.
Full Fibre has transformed the EastNet legacy infrastructure which is now supported and assured by a flexible, fully managed network service capable of accommodating and future-proofing new and improved technologies as they emerge and are required by partners and their users across the region.
All 550 (and counting) sites including council buildings, schools and libraries now have access to ultrafast high-speed internet services – protected by a world-class firewall. In addition, the Full Fibre WAN infrastructure has enabled MLL to implement free Public Wi-Fi in communal areas of council buildings and libraries. This is also being rolled out in local market towns to provide stall holders with fast, reliable internet connection when processing customer mobile payment transactions.
Last, but not least, MLL ensured the critical migration phase of the contract was achieved on time, notwithstanding the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic being at its height during the last four months of the project. In fact, the exponential rise in home working following the virus, demonstrated the new Full Fibre WAN’s ability to scale bandwidth on demand without problem. It also served to highlight the calibre of MLL’s professional managed network services and support.
As EastNet’s long-term strategic managed network service provider, MLL has responsibility for maintaining and assuring the EastNet Full Fibre WAN service. Moving forward, the company will also engage closely with each partner authority to advise on, and subsequently implement, their individual WAN service requirements. As part of this process, MLL is liaising with Connecting Cambridgeshire which is responsible for improving the region’s overall digital connectivity to drive economic growth, help communities to thrive, and make it easier to access public services.
Stephen Hills, PSN Services Manager, EastNet, said: “MLL Telecom has been instrumental in the seamless delivery of our new Full Fibre WAN network capability, a notable achievement in light of the short timescales, but quite remarkable bearing in mind the unexpected additional challenges presented by COVID-19. Moving forward, MLL’s technical expertise and highly professional services will undoubtedly help us shape and productise future services on EastNet as our existing and future partners strive to maximise the full benefits of digital transformation.”
Added Chris Stromberg, Head of IT & Digital for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: “The Eastnet implementation was huge, with many moving parts, short timelines, multiple partners, and in the final months, a worldwide pandemic. MLL pulled out all the stops throughout the whole programme and, along with exceptional work by the partners, ensured the sites and services were online when required. We are now in a strong position to make the best use of MLL’s expertise in this growing sector, and ensure we continue to have a fast, reliable, secure and adaptive network.”