Airwave to get three-year extension as government resets Emergency Services Network project

Written by Sam Trendall on 21 September 2018 in News
News

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. 


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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.

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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