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Further and faster: catching up with the Janet access programme

Neil Shewry

The Janet access programme – upgrading and rearchitecting Janet access across the UK – is approaching the mid-point of its original four-year schedule. With the build of the first regions almost complete, Neil Shewry, head of network delivery, provides an update on how things are progressing.

What is the Janet access programme?

Before I bring us up to date on progress, it may be worth reminding ourselves what the Janet access programme is. The Janet Network consists of a national backbone and 18 different regional networks that, historically, were built at different times using different technologies and were once operated by separate, outsourced regional consortia.

About five years ago, we took the decision to insource the operations of all regional network and then about 18 months ago launched the Janet access programme to unify all regional networks via a common access infrastructure. We’re unifying the architecture, meaning everything is being built on a common set of design principles, using common components, and with common configuration throughout.

The goal is to deliver a consistent access infrastructure that serves all members’ and customers’ needs, irrespective of geography, and enables us to deliver a wide range of connectivity services now and in the future.

Aside from consistency, what are the advantages of the new-style Janet access?

What we’re building has many other benefits. For example, we're delivering a lot more underlying capacity. Within each regional network there will be a regional core and then there’ll be access links out to all end users. Raw bandwidth on both the regional cores and on access links are being provisioned based on three- to five-year traffic predictions, with the ability to scale beyond that as the need grows. This means we can be far more agile in delivering new and upgraded services in the future.

We’re also future proofing from a technology perspective. The hardware we’re deploying, in the core and at customer sites, enables us to not only deliver the set of services we offer today but also new connectivity services (some of which don’t even exist yet) as enhanced virtual functions a standard hardware base. This not only means flexibility and agility in our service offerings but also minimal effort or disruption required to provision new services, once the underlying infrastructure is in place.

And we’re building out across a much bigger geographical footprint than we've got at the moment. This means that not only are we bringing Janet closer to many currently connected members but we’re also better able to reach new markets much further afield. For example, our old network in the south west of England went as far as Plymouth, but no further, while our new south west network extends all the way round the peninsula to Truro and back.

Where do things stand today?

The first six months of the programme were spent developing design principles and a procurement strategy, and then putting framework agreements in place with key suppliers, before we actually started to build any of the networks. But already, right now, our first two networks in the south and the south west of England are built and commissioned, and we're ready to start transitioning members over to them. However, the current lockdown, with restrictions on movement and engineering, means we’ve paused.

The next wave of projects is in London, the Midlands and Norwich, where we're in the middle of the build phase. For these, components are on order and suppliers are putting infrastructure in the ground. But, again, we’ve paused a lot of that work.

Overall, there are three categories of project: those where we're coming to the end, those we’re in the middle of building and then the remainder where we’re doing a lot of planning and network design but haven't started to deliver yet. The schedule of projects is based on end dates of existing regional network contracts, so those projects not yet started have that status due to end dates of existing arrangements being further into the future than for the projects currently in flight. 

How do you expect the current pause to affect overall delivery?

This was originally a four-year programme, so before the current restrictions we were looking at completing by the end of 2022. We now expect a three- to six-month delay based on current restrictions and advice. One of our main providers is Openreach. They've largely put a hold on anything that isn't deemed a ’critical service’ (which none of our projects are), until at least the beginning of June, which we understand and accept.

I'd be surprised if things were back to normal by then but, even if they were, there's going to be a natural backlog of work to get over. This directly affects projects in the build phase but the general situation means a likely delay to the entire programme

How have members had an input?

We’ve presented the programme over the past 18 months at six regional events in different parts of the country, with two main objectives.

The first was for us to give members a lot of detailed information about what we were doing, what the networks would look like, what equipment we were using and what some example topologies and network maps looked like. The second was for members to provide feedback on our connectivity service offering and how they saw their requirements evolving in future.

These events were well attended and were really productive from our perspective, and we took away some useful insights and ideas to follow up on.