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The Home Office has struck an agreement with Motorola, the main supplier of the new Emergency Services Network (ESN), to deploy the service in a phased approach beginning in January 2019, and plans to extend the life of the existing Airwave network to 2022 in some cases.
The decision to stagger the roll-out has come at the end of a lengthy and often controversial review of the much-criticised and heavily delayed programme to replace the current terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network used by the UK’s blue light services with services running over EE’s 4G mobile network.
The Home Office said its decision “secures the future” of ESN, which it claims will save the taxpayer £200m a year once fully deployed.
“We are proud to support the Home Office on its new delivery approach for ESN, while at the same time ensuring public safety users have the Airwave communications network they need,” said Kelly Mark, executive vice-president of services and software at Motorola Solutions.
“We have been working closely with the Home Office to ensure that our services are aligned with this new phased deployment and timeline for ESN.”
Under the new approach, police, fire and rescue, and ambulance services – alongside a number of other users – will begin to use data services over the ESN from early next year, with voice services following in the near future.
“It will … leave the emergency services 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,” said the Home Office.
The delayed ESN roll-out has been a source of much concern among emergency services stakeholders, as well as the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), who have scrutinised the programme at length.
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This is because with the Airwave network having a definitive switch-off date of 31 December 2019, if the ESN was not fully operational by then, it would result in the emergency services being unable to perform key functions and potentially lead to substantial loss of life if a major emergency or disaster happened.
The Home Office is now negotiating with Airwave, which was itself acquired by Motorola during the process, to extend the provision of its well-used Tetra network for three more years to 31 December 2022, with options to run it for even longer if absolutely necessary.
Motorola said it would also perform some upgrades to the Tetra network “to ensure the requirements of public safety users continue to be met”.
Through its ESN User Services contract – which will also be extended by a further 30 months to the end of 2024 – Motorola will implement 3GPP standards-based push-to-talk (PTT) software that will essentially turn smartphones into data-enabled emergency services radios, alongside a package of telephone, messaging and data services and an air-to-ground communications application.
Its global platform will use technology from Kodiak Networks, another recent Motorola acquisition.