Providing advice and support on the modernisation of a network that forms part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure.
Originally built in the 1990s, the National Grid’s operational telecoms network forms part of the UK’s national utility infrastructure, providing mission-critical services controlling National Grid’s gas distribution and transmission networks.
Since then, there have been significant advances in technology and services, whether it’s the widespread deployment of xDSL, faster terrestrial services using fibre optic cable, new generations of mobile technology with higher data transfer rates and so on. Further, between the 1990s and now, National Grid’s requirements for the network have changed, with new developments taking the place of previous gas network control and monitoring regimes, and an overall reduction in the number of gas sites that are required in the infrastructure.
National Grid approached us seeking independent expert advice to support its transmission, distribution and information services teams in the identification of the demands on, and objectives for, the new network as well as in the identification of options for optimising the infrastructure as it stood at that point.
Acting as expert technical advisers and working closely with various National Grid teams, we started by undertaking a health check on the existing communications infrastructure to understand how much longer the new system would still be viable for, identifying risk mitigation measures that could be taken if any difficulties are encountered before changes to the network are made. Our consultants then led a review covering all channels of communication that could potentially support gas network operations, including simple data acquisition, SCADA control, asset management capabilities and resilient voice communications. We made sure that the review strategy took the formation of independent distribution network operators into account as well, as they have taken over ownership of some specific geographic regions of the gas distribution network.
National Grid’s communications requirements were assessed with several internal workshops with members of the transmission, distribution and information services teams. In these meetings, we identified and assessed all technology options, taking into account likely developments over the next ten years and formulating a list of options including wired and wireless solutions such as fibre, IP VPN, xDSL, PSTN, VSAT, GPRS/3G and UHF radio scanning. These options were then narrowed down to a shortlist based on commercial attractiveness (including high level cost modelling) and technical compliance. Based on this, we could finally make recommendations on service provision options for the period through to 2020, including tactical and strategic changes.
By the end of our involvement in this project, we had provided recommendations with respect to service delivery and technology selection, as well as suggesting pre-procurement procedures to make the transition to the new system as seamless as possible. We also made sure to distinguish between the differing needs of both the distribution and transmission sections of the business, balancing different availability requirements while still maximising economies of scales.
Our recommendations were presented to National Grid’s steering group, who carried out further analysis before engaging us to support them in the procurement of a new service provider to implement and manage an operational telecoms managed service network for both the transmission and distribution sides of the business.