Home Office starts search for £1bn ESN partner and system to measure ‘coverage and quality’ of supplier networks

Department opens bidding for firm to replace Motorola in delivering core user services

The Home Office has kick-started its search for a replacement provider to support core voice and video communications for the Emergency Services Network.

The department is also seeking to create a testing system to ensure that telecoms suppliers are offering adequate coverage and quality of service.

The bidding process has begun for a major “user services” contract slated to come into effect next spring and run until at least the end of 2031 and, potentially, two additional years beyond that. Excluding VAT, the deal is expected to be worth £895m to the chosen firm – which will, effectively, replace Motorola Solutions, after the US company’s participation in the ESN project was terminated late last year.

The winning bidder will provide the programme with a range of services, perhaps the most significant of which is a platform that supports a suite of “mission-critical services”, including data, video and push-to-talk voice services – the technology used in emergency services radio communications. These services should enable “prioritised group and individual voice, data and video communications” and must be compliant with mobile telecoms standards as set out by the 3GPP global group of industry bodies, according to a contract notice published by the Home Office this week.

The supplier will also be tasked with the “delivery of network and IT infrastructure… including a dedicated dual 4G/5G SA (stand-alone) mobile core network” to support voice, video and data services.

Other services covered by the £1bn-plus deal include an “enterprise mobility management service for ESN devices” and “provision of customer support, including a self-service interface, billing and reporting services”.

Throughout the contract, the provider will support the rollout and use of its technology via design, system integration, and project-management services.

The deal is one of two main technology supplier engagements to enable the delivery of the ESN project, alongside a mobile services contract that covers the provision of “radio access network infrastructure and related services”.

That contract is currently held by EE. The BT-owned mobile company was first appointed in December 2015 and, as of the most recent extension, is under contract until the end of 2024 – by which point the Home Office expects to have spent £826.75m via the deal.

Over the coming years, the chosen user services supplier will work closely alongside the mobile services provider and other companies involved in the rollout of ESN, the procurement notice indicated.

“There are more than 300,000 emergency service users who will rely on the system we are creating for their own operational safety and the welfare of the British public,” the document added. “We need companies with high standards, who can work with us to provide the technical building blocks needed, and who believe in the significance of what we are creating in ESN.”

To find out more or begin compiling their bid, suppliers must sign a non-disclosure agreement and an ethical walls agreement. Once they have done so, bidders then have until 3pm on 19 June to complete a questionnaire stage, after which the Home Office expects to invite between three and five potential providers “to participate in dialogue”.

This will be followed by the submission of outline proposals, then “detailed dialogue meetings” with project leaders and, for those still under consideration, an invitation to submit a final and formal tender.

Alongside the overarching user services agreement, the Home Office also intends to appoint a supplier of a “calibrated testing solution” that can measure the extent to which ESN’s communications services providers are delivering the levels of service enshrined in their contracts.

The department has not yet launched a bidding process, but has published an early-engagement notice alerting potential providers to its plans. Interested parties are asked to get in touch by 8 June and request for a non-disclosure agreement – following the completion of which, they will receive a full request for information document describing the project in detail.

“The project’s objective is to procure a calibrated testing solution and associated support services to provide the [Home Office] with the capability to independently assess whether the ESN suppliers’ obligations with regard to coverage, quality, mobility, retainability and service are being met,” the notice said. “The service needs to provide physical testing, data upload, analysis, and a reporting on the findings. This all needs to be made as automated as possible.”

Following numerous delays and problems, the ESN programme’s final delivery date is currently set at 2029, with whole-life programme costs of a little more than £12bn. This means that, even in the best-case scenario, the network will finally replace the outgoing Airwave platform a decade behind schedule and at double the original cost.

Airwave was first commissioned in 2000 and was acquired by Motorola Solutions in 2016. Alongside the agreement with the Home Office to terminate its role in the ESN programme, the firm is also now subject to price controls imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority, which mean that it must reduce by about £200m a year the amount it charges for ongoing delivery of Airwave.

The currently contracted prices have enabled Motorola to make “supernormal profits” as a result of its position as a “monopoly provider”, the CMA concluded at the end of an 18-month investigative process.

Motorola – which PublicTechnology revealed earlier this week has now been removed from government’s list of strategic suppliers – has said that it will appeal the decision to enforce price controls.

Sam Trendall

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