Airwave dropped from Emergency Services Network procurement

Incumbent network operator Airwave will take no further part in the Emergency Services Network bid process, the Home Office has revealed

Incumbent Airwave and mobile network operator Vodafone have both been dropped from the tender process for the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) in the face of intense competition.

The Home Office has released further details of the highly competitive tender process, naming eight suppliers that will advance to further negotiations on Lots 1, 2 and 3 of the ESN contract.

These are, on Lot 1, Delivery Partner, Atkins, KBR, Lockheed Martin and Mott MacDonald; on Lot 2, User Services, HP and Motorola; and on Lot 3, Mobile Services, EE and Telefónica.

Lot 4, for extension services to Lot 3, was dropped at the start of 2015 after it became apparent there was no need to move ahead with it.

As a result, Airwave, UK Broadband Networks and Vodafone will play no further part in the contract process.

It also means Airwave’s preferred solution of terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) networking, which has been the backbone of emergency services communications for a number of years, is unlikely to form a component of ESN, and police radios in their current form will cease to exist.

ESN will provide mobile voice and data communications services to 250,000 staff at 44 police and crime commissioner services, 50 fire and rescue authorities and services, 13 ambulance trusts, the National Crime Agency, the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, National Police Air Service and other government and local public safety bodies.

Significant savings

Intense competition between bidders for the contracts to run the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) is offering the prospect of significant cost savings for the taxpayer, possibly by up to £1bn, the Home Office revealed.

Minister for security and immigration James Brokenshire said it was clear the procurement process had delivered bids from the mobile industry that went far beyond the Home Office’s original expectations.

“Not only do they match the operational requirements set by the emergency services but also offer the prospect of significant cost savings for the taxpayer over the existing system.

“The intense competition for these contracts is leading directly to what we have always promised: an enhanced, flexible and more affordable communication system for the emergency services.”

Cabinet office minister Francis Maude said: “We want our emergency services to have access to world-leading mobile broadband communications and modern networks and tools, so they can deliver vital public services at significantly less cost to the taxpayer.”

Deployment to start in 2017

ESN will begin to go live in 2017 as the current contracts, all of which are held by Airwave, begin to expire.

Notably, ESN is expected to enhance a commercial network with extra coverage, resilience and security, to deliver broadband data services, relying on priority access to commercially available spectrum.

We remain totally committed to continuing to deliver a mission-critical communications service with many contracts in place until at least 2020

John Lewis, Airwave

The current service is run on the Tetra private mobile radio system and the government has already gone on record to say it does not believe it will be possible or affordable to procure another private network because there is no more spectrum available to the emergency services.

Airwave COO John Lewis confirmed Airwave had not been selected to move to the next stage of the process.

“Despite this outcome, we can reassure our 300,000 emergency services and public safety customers around Great Britain that we remain totally committed to continuing to deliver a mission-critical communications service with many contracts in place until at least 2020,” he said.

Lewis said Airwave’s encrypted, resilient network had been built and honed into a world-leading service over 15 years, operating across ambulance, fire and police services.

“Every six minutes across Great Britain, a member of the emergency services relies on Airwave’s emergency push-to-talk button to summon urgent assistance. 

“Our plan is to continue to deliver new capabilities to our public safety customers including mobile data and application services, both now and well into the future,” he said.

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