Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with various entities involved in telecommunications in a variety of capacities.
I’ve worked at the Networking and Communication Center (NCC) of the local university, as part of the ICT team in the Municipality of Heraklion, one of the larger municipalities of Greece, as well as on my own as an independent telecom consultant.
In all three capacities, I’ve had the good fortune of being involved in an ongoing telecom project in my city that has had and is continuing to have a significant impact on the city as a whole.
This project is the municipal fiber optic network, a network infrastructure designed to deliver broadband connectivity as well as telecom services to all public services within the city.
In this article, I’d like to share with you my experience from various aspects of this ongoing project, including some factors that go well beyond the technical attributes of the endeavor.
My many hats
The municipal fiber optic network is an initiative that started out in the early 2000s and is still ongoing today. European funding was secured to implement fiber optic Municipal Area Networks (MANs) in 40 cities throughout the country.
One of the largest networks was slated to be implemented in Heraklion, which is where I live.
A project such as this has a lifetime on the order of decades, which in the telecom industry, is a very long time! For this reason, I have had the opportunity to be involved with it in different capacities at various times.
In a sense, I have been wearing different “hats” or playing varying roles in my involvement.
Thus, I have had the opportunity to see the workings of such a large-scale, long-term public project from the perspective of the designer, the implementer, the customer, the administrator, as well as the end user from both the public sector as well as private-sector points of view.
The fiber optic MAN
The implementation of a fiber optic MAN is the result of a European initiative to interconnect public services into a single telecommunications network independent of commercial telecom providers.
This includes municipal buildings, schools, hospitals, libraries, and other government offices and services. Each city’s MAN, in turn, is then connected to the National Public Administration Network, which delivers Internet, telephony, and a variety of other network services to all connected public offices and entities.
My involvement started in the early 2000s when I was working with the NCC of the university. As an academic institution, the university, and in turn, our team, was tasked with the responsibility of designing the network and ensuring that it fulfilled the required specifications.
This involved much more than ensuring that the proposed equipment and cabling were sufficient. It also involved:
- Proposing the physical route of the fiber optics to:
- Maximize the coverage of existing schools, hospitals, and other public services
- Ensure scalability for economic future expansion of the network
- Take paths along already established rights of way (roads, underground conduits) to minimize installation efforts and costs
- Planning of physical nodes including:
- Location to best serve as many buildings as possible
- Provisioning for power, environmental conditioning, as well as physical security of nodes
- Determining the best locations as well as cooperating stakeholders to host nodes and related equipment
- Design of inter-nodal conduits
- Arranging for enough fiber optic pairs between nodes for current and near-future needs
- Ensuring enough free paths for the installation of new fibers between nodes for distant-future needs
- Ensuring trenches and paths are deep enough to avoid accidental damage of fibers during future related or unrelated excavation work
- Delivering redundancy, resiliency, and high availability throughout the 99 km of the installed fiber optic cabling pathways
The above list simply scratches the surface as to the elements that had to be taken into account. Now imagine that all of this design has to be achieved in collaboration with all of the involved stakeholders.
This includes municipalities, school boards, hospitals, and all potentially connected government offices. In addition, collaboration is necessary with those entities managing preexisting underground infrastructure, including telecom, power, and waterworks organizations, that must be consulted before any cabling or conduit routes can be established.
In short, the design phase involves about 80% of the effort simply to ensure the smooth cooperation of all involved stakeholders and affected parties.
Customer and administrator hat
After leaving the university NCC, I had the privilege of joining the ICT department of the municipality of Heraklion, which would eventually “inherit” the MAN and manage it.
As the one responsible for the telecommunications aspects of the municipality, I was in charge of leveraging the completed MAN for the purposes of the municipality.
During the early 2010s, I held the data and telephony of the city’s municipal services, schools, and hospitals in my hands.
Actually, the very fiber optic cables carrying all of these services to the city passed just behind my desk, so if I simply held those cables in my hand, that statement would literally be true. I won’t lie, I felt powerful!
As the one responsible for leveraging the MAN for the municipality, it was up to me to ensure that the infrastructure was being leveraged appropriately. So much time, effort, and money had been invested in this infrastructure, it was a shame to have it go to waste.
This was the time I learned the most from my hands-on experience in networking. I had a city-sized network at my fingertips, and I spent the next few months interconnecting the eight major buildings of the municipality.
It was a time when the municipality had just migrated to an IP telephony solution, and I was able to effectively link all sites together into a single IP telephony and data network.
In addition, about 40 regional municipal offices were interconnected to the network as part of this initiative, resulting in the consolidation of almost 1000 municipal employees in disparate areas of the city, essentially becoming a single enterprise network over the fiber optic MAN.
Add to this the over 5000 public servants and 18000 students directly affected by the interconnectivity of schools, hospitals, and other public institutions beyond just the municipality itself.
From this, you can quickly see this single telecom project’s impact on the city.
An important milestone during this time was an expansion of the original MAN, where additional cabling runs were installed, bringing the network physically closer to many more municipal facilities.
The expansion added 41 km bringing the total cabling path of the MAN to 140 km.
End user hat
Currently, in addition to providing similar services to the municipality, I am also the telecom consultant for the city’s cultural and conference center, a large conglomerate of buildings dedicated to providing state-of-the-art space for conferences, concerts, theater, and well as exhibitions with potentially thousands of participants.
These facilities include modern communication systems that deliver Ultra HD live streaming, videoconferencing, and collaboration and can provide broadband-speed wireless connectivity to thousands of local users.
This cultural center is a customer of the city’s fiber optic MAN and a highly demanding one. One of the interesting aspects of this customer is that it has rapidly outstripped the current capacities of the MAN.
Having been initially designed well over 15 years ago, the MAN currently delivers only GigabitEthernet speed links per customer.
Although the project is indeed state of the art, some of the mechanisms that operate within it are still somewhat slow, and this is to be expected when a project such as this has so many moving parts and depends upon so many different public and private sector stakeholders.
Indeed, at the time of this writing, a third initiative for upgrading the MAN is underway to improve these end-user speeds to approach 40 and 100 Gbps, but their implementation is still expected to be about a year away.
In the meantime, alternative providers have been provisioned to cover the center’s bandwidth needs until that time comes.
It is rare that someone in the telecom industry is able to be involved in a project over such a long time from various aspects and points of view.
I count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on the fiber optic MAN and to be still involved with it in some capacity.
The experience working with others on this project as part of various teams, along with the interaction I’ve had, has taught me a lot about telecommunications, but even more about the impact that telecom has on the inner workings of a city and even on the daily lives of its citizens.
Among the many things I’ve learned from this project, arguably the most impactful lesson is that the larger the telecom project is, the less it has to do with the technology, and the more it has to do with all the involved stakeholders and their related interests.
Dealing with so many different variables while rolling out a technologically advanced and involved project is no simple task and often requires an understanding of much more than just technical issues.
That’s why I believe that telecom is the exciting field that it is and has much to offer anyone interested in pursuing a rewarding and fulfilling career.