Q and A: Hiring the messenger - Highways England's telecommunications

 

This autumn saw the completion of the handover phase of the £450m National Roads Telecommunications Service 2 (NRTS2) contract, which Highways England awarded to telent Technology Services Ltd in late 2017.

NRTS2 provides the telecommunications backbone that enables the national road network operator's seven regional control centres across the country and its national traffic operations centre to connect to the strategic road network's (SRN's) 30,000 roadside technology assets - including message signs, CCTV cameras and emergency roadside telephones including smart motorways.

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The contract started on 16 March 2018 and runs for seven years. In the first six months of the contract, services were transitioned safely and successfully over to telent.

Transport Network speaks to Kevin Hamer, head of programme, national road telecommunications services information and technology at Highways England about this massive project and the improvements it can bring to the SRN.

Q - How does the system feed into the smart motorway network and its real-time management of issues such as traffic flow and stop vehicle detection?

The NRTS2 service must provide a 24/7 365 day a year, highly reliable and resilient service to our regional control centres and traffic information services. This enables them to provide accurate, real-time travel information to drivers and travel news providers; it also enables the operation of technology on our smart motorways, which helps smooth the flow of traffic and provide a safer, improved service to our road users.

The NRTS2 service is also responsible for meeting challenging delivery timescales installing new telecommunications services to our road improvement schemes in support of the Road Investment Strategy.

In awarding the contract, we engaged extensively with both internal stakeholders and the external market to ensure the new NRTS2 service was optimised to meet business needs, and so to operate, maintain and modernise the SRN.

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In the first two and a half years of the NRTS2 contract, telent are required to deliver an extensive programme of work to transform the network and deliver the latest generation of telecommunications services. This will be done renewing equipment, and delivering new services which will include the development of a roadside wireless service for use, where suitable, on our road improvement schemes.

Q - How do you future proof a contract like this and how does it tie in with connected and automated vehicles of the future?

Following the two and a half year transformation programme, the new service has been designed to use open standards, be flexible and scalable to meet the future needs of the business and support emerging new technologies.

Wherever possible the NRTS2 service uses commercial, off-the-shelf products which are configured to meet its requirements. This will allow new services to be developed in shorter timescales and at lower cost and support greater data exchange with other Highways England systems.

The base network for NRTS2 is projected to provide sufficient capacity for the life of the contract but should additional capacity be required, it can be added at low cost because the solution is highly scalable.

Increasing capacity on the core network could be used to enable future connected vehicle technology and further develop existing third party revenue from leasing of fibre. NRTS2 supports the work we are doing to progress future technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles.

Q What are the KPIs and is there any scope for commercialisation in this contract, helping generate revenue for HE and /or telent?

The NRTS2 contract contains comprehensive requirements covering service performance and availability. This includes an extensive range of Key Performance Indicators which are regularly reported and robustly assessed with penalties for loss of service.

There are financial service credits for Highways England if services are not available. In summary, the contract supports the requirement for a reliable and resilient road telecommunications service.

Spare capacity within the NRTS network can be (and is) leveraged to incentivise the development of further opportunities in the market.

Q - How do you protect the security of communications?

The NRTS2 contract places great emphasis on the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information and consequently on the security of all elements of the NRTS2 systems.

An approved security management plan, compliant with good industry practice, has been established.

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