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CONNECT Interview: Paul Shelswell

Paul Shelswell is GÉANT’s Programme Manager for the ambitious GN4-3N network implementation project that will future-proof European research and education networking for the next 15 years. CONNECT met with Paul to learn more about his background and the project.

Interview by Paul Maurice, GÉANT 

Paul, tell us about your background?

I have nearly 35 years’ experience in telecommunications network implementation starting from some of the first mainstream long-haul fibre transmission networks for British Telecom in the mid-1980s, to project management of 2G, 3G and 4G mobile network builds in the UK, Brunei, UAE, Portugal, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan and the United States.

Prior to joining GÉANT in 2019, I spent the last 12 years project-managing the build of new fibre access networks, delivery and upgrade of 3G/4G mobile access and core networks and implementation/upgrade of IP/MPLS networks (using subsea dark fibre IRU and leased capacity) for a full service operator covering Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

What has happened so far with GN4-3N?

Since its official start in January 2019, the majority of the activity has related to finalising the new GN4-3N network topology and the design and procurement of the Open Line System (OLS) equipment and dark fibre connectivity. The network design activities have built upon the great work carried out in the regional workshops and market engagement activities that were carried out before the project officially started.

Design work completed to date has allowed procurement to progress the dark fibre connectivity for the Iberian Peninsula (Lisbon/Porto/Bilbao/Madrid/Paris) and the first five routes to replace the existing GÉANT dark fibre network covering Madrid/Marseille/Milan/Geneva/Frankfurt.

Procurement of the OLS has included several stages including pre-qualification, outline proposal, face-to-face vendor dialogue sessions, NMS functionality webinars and final bid submission. Many of these activities have been carried out with support from our NREN partners in the technical evaluation of the proposed solutions. The outcome of the OLS procurement has resulted in Framework Agreements being awarded to Infinera, Ciena, Nokia and ECI, with Infinera awarded the contract to build the new GN4-3N network.

Key to the project success thus far has been the creation of a new multistage Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) set up by our procurement team to enable a high number of connectivity providers to be prequalified for the supply of terrestrial and subsea connectivity. Once accepted in the DPS these providers are then able to respond to published tenders for dark fibre, managed capacity and spectrum connectivity. The DPS system has already been used to procure connectivity covering short term terrestrial and subsea managed capacity for the current GÉANT network, dark fibre connectivity for the new GN4-3N network and terrestrial connectivity for EaPConnect.

How does decision making work in GN4-3N?

The Network Infrastructure Advisory Committee (NIAC) was formed in April 2019 and is central to the project. Formed of ten NREN subject matter experts, its objectives are to build and sustain consensus during the infrastructure planning and implementation phases and to advise the Project Management Board on strategic policy, topological and technical issues and on financial consequences related to the procurement and implementation of IRUs, spectrum sharing and alternative solutions.

The GN4-3N project team has also spent time defining and preparing a set of tools for use in managing the complex deployment of the new network, migration of services, and decommissioning of the existing line system equipment.

Detailed project plans and task builds are housed in the GÉANT JIRA system with a comprehensive set of tracker and dashboard reports using the Smartsheet suite of collaborative tools. With the OLS vendor and first connectivity providers now selected, more detailed deployment planning is now being integrated into the overall project plan.

Has the schedule been affected by COVID-19?

It has already impacted GN4-3N in many ways. For example, connectivity providers need more time to respond to procurement tenders; travel restrictions and lack of access to key sites has hindered site surveys and audits, in turn affecting last mile fibre planning and solutions; co-location providers have delays in their ordering systems; and we are of course experiencing extended lead times from equipment providers.

Whilst it’s difficult to define the total impact of COVID-19 on the GN4-3N programme, it’s clear that the deployment of the first new routes will be delayed and this will affect efficiencies in the rollout. We currently estimate the total delay over the project could be in the order of three to six months.

What should the second half of 2020 bring?

We should see deployment of new Infinera FlexILS DWDM and Groove G30 transponder equipment in the GÉANT Test Lab, allowing technical acceptance and validation testing to take place. This will also support integration of the new network equipment into the existing GÉANT operational environment and the new Inventory Management System. This integration testing needs to be completed before live traffic is carried over the new Infinera FlexILS network for the first time later in 2020.

We should also see delivery of the first new dark fibre routes as part of the GN4-3N network in the Iberian Peninsula, with the first route to be deployed from Lisbon to Porto using dark fibre connectivity and co-location services provided by the local NREN, FCCN. Other routes to be deployed in 2020 are Porto to Bilbao, Paris to Bilbao and Lisbon to Madrid with these routes being deployed using a combination of commercial and NREN dark fibre connectivity.

This period will also allow for completion of dark fibre connectivity procurement for the 15 routes that make up the existing GÉANT dark fibre backbone network so that the first of these routes can be upgraded during the first quarter of 2021.

What stage are you most looking forward to in the project?

Given the time to get to where we are and navigating the unexpected challenges that COVID-19 has introduced, I am really looking forward to completing the deployment of the first new route between Lisbon and Porto. Being able to issue the first cease notice for existing leased connectivity and migrate services across to the new fibre backbone delivered under GN4-3N is something I’m also very much looking forward to!

However, I’m also looking further forward to early 2022 when we can start to plan the expansion of the GÉANT fibre backbone eastwards to connect locations such as Bucharest, Belgrade and Sofia, enabling the South East European (SEE) NRENs to benefit from the GN4-3N network expansion project.

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