Airwave to get three-year extension as government resets Emergency Services Network project
New services to be rolled out incrementally as Motorola Solutions agrees to continue support outgoing platform
Credit: Flickr/CC BY 2.0
The lifespan of the emergency services’ outgoing Airwave network will be extended for at least three additional years as the services that form its replacement are rolled out in phases.
The Home Office today announced that it has “set a new strategic direction” for the project to implement the Emergency Services Network. This will involve the deployment of services taking place “incrementally”, the department said. The rollout of mobile data services will begin early next year, followed shortly thereafter by voice services.
These services will be provided by Motorola Solutions, via a network owned by EE.
Motorola also owns the emergency services’ existing Airwave network, and the US mobile giant will also continue to support the radio-based network until at least the end of 2022 – three years after it was originally scheduled to be switched off. The Home Office has the option to extend this support even further, if required.
- Emergency Services Network rollout given red-light warning in annual major projects review
- ‘Tragedy in waiting’: Government slammed over potential six-month gap in emergency service communications
- 'Ambitious' target date for delivering Emergency Services Network 'unlikely to be met', say MPs
The phased rollout of ESN will mean the UK’s ambulance, police, and fire services will be “free to test and choose which ESN products they want as and when they become available, rather than having to wait for the network to be fully implemented”, the Home Office said.
“The dedicated 4G network will transform emergency services’ mobile working, especially in remote areas and at times of network congestion, with SIM cards giving them priority over commercial users,” the department added. “Products will include a ‘push-to-talk’ capability for mobile phones, effectively turning them into emergency service radios with data capability, a package of telephone, messaging and data services, and an air to ground communications app.”
Following the ESN project’s change of direction, the government will engage with Motorola Solutions and EE over the coming weeks to ensure its contracts with the two firms are amended accordingly.
The Home Office added that more details on the changes being made to the ESN programme of work “will be provided to parliament in due course”. A full business case for the revamped project is expected to be published by the government in early 2019.
The National Fire Chiefs Council said that it welcomed the decision to roll out ESN incrementally.
“I’m pleased that the future of the Emergency Services Network is looking secure, as it offers fantastic opportunities for the future,” said Daryl Keen, NFCC lead for operational communications and Hertfordshire’s chief fire officer.
He added: “The Fire and Rescue Service has always believed that the ESN is the right direction of travel for emergency services communications. ESN products being available earlier should allow the emergency services to access many of the benefits and capabilities ahead of the full suite of products being available.”
Work on ESN began in 2011 and the cost of the project to date stands at about £5bn, data sets recently released by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority reveal. Transition from Airwave services was due to begin this summer and be completed in advance of the end of 2019, but the project is estimated to be “at least 15 months behind schedule”, according to a report last week from the National Audit Office.
The NAO also found that, all the while it needs to maintain the Airwave network, the Home Office must find £330m from the policing budget each year to fund its upkeep.
Newly created government entity begins two-year remit with funding dedicated to release location data held by six public agencies
Research shows public-sector entities are far more trusted than commercial counterparts
HMRC director says that new digital ways to pay tax will give businesses more control over their finances
PublicTechnology editor Sam Trendall looks at the public sector’s vexed relationship with failure
The policies may be in place, but is it happening in practice? BT's Bas de Graaf looks at the reality of GDPR today
Cisco's Dominic Elliott shows how global organisations can embrace the benefits of SD-WAN without adding complexity
When it comes to digital transformation, you want your organisation to lead from the front
BT's Simon Godfrey on how government is fundamentally rethinking its strategy for both people and places