Home Office cans Lot 4 of Emergency Services Network

The Home Office concedes the fourth contract for the Emergency Services Network is to be scrapped

The Home Office has scrapped the fourth contract, or Lot 4, of the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) framework, saying in light of new commitments undertaken by the UK’s big four mobile network operators (MNOs) it was now redundant.

Lot 4 was designed to address mobile network access for the emergency services in remote and rural areas of the country, as well as national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty, that could not be covered by Lot 3 – the main ESN mobile contract.

However, having evaluated the tenders it has received on Lot 3, the Home Office has decided the main contract bids offered “unexpected and significant” improvements to coverage in poor signal areas, rendering Lot 4 pointless in its current form.

Minister for policing, criminal justice and victims Mike Penning said although the tender bids are still being evaluated, it is clear competition for contracts for the new ESN has resulted in offers from the mobile industry that are significantly beyond the Home Office's initial expecations.

The remaining ESN lots

  • Lot 1 – ESN Delivery Partner (DP) – transition support, cross-lot integration and user support: a delivery partner to provide programme management services for cross-lot ESN integration in transition; vehicle installation design and assurance; training support services; and delivery support during the implementation of ESN.
  • Lot 2 – ESN User Services (US) – a technical service integrator to provide end-to-end systems integration for the ESN: to develop and operate the public safety applications; the necessary telecommunications infrastructure; mobile device management; customer support; and service management.
  • Lot 3 – ESN Mobile Services (MS) – a resilient mobile network: a network operator to provide an enhanced mobile communications service with highly available full coverage in the defined Lot 3 area (UK) and technical interfaces to Lot 2.

“The quality of the bids means the areas of the UK that would have remained covered by the Lot 4 ‘extension to mobile services’ contract are now significantly smaller than we envisaged, therefore we do not need to proceed with the contract in its current form.”

The specifications of ESN were developed alongside the emergency services networks and will also add vital broadband data capabilities the current Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) system cannot provide.

The Home Office hopes ESN will enhance a commercial network to deliver broadband services, with priority for emergency services traffic, avoiding the need for separate and expensive mobile radio spectrum, as is currently used.

The ESN contracts are set to be awarded in 2015 and the new network will begin to go live as existing contracts expire, beginning in 2017. The total value of the contracts is thought to be between £555m and £1.2bn.

It will cover 250,000 operational staff at 44 police and crime commissioner services, 50 fire and rescue authorities, 13 ambulance trusts, the National Crime Agency, the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the National Police Air Service. 

In addition, more than 400 government, local public safety and non-governmental bodies will potentially be able to use it.

Industry speculation

The future of Lot 4 was the subject of some speculation at the beginning of January 2015 after The Times reported a number of providers, including Airwave – which supplies the current blue light communications system – had walked away from the bid process for Lot 4, leaving only Arqiva in the running.

The paper claimed one of the suppliers invited to bid – which also included EE, Vodafone and O2 – had slammed the contract and said it would be “unworkable” to accomplish the government’s goals in the limited timescale given.

A source close to the bid process told Computer Weekly the suppliers had been in general agreement that the existence of Lot 4 was pointless anyway.

A spokesman for Airwave said: “It is against the rules of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme for us to talk about our bid strategy, nor anything to do with this bid. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, Airwave is committed to these rules so as not to jeopardise our position in this process.

“What I can do is reassure you that Airwave is still very much committed to delivering critical communications services to its customers both now and well into the future.”

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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