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Police Digital Service offers £50m contract for Tetra products and services

Delivery vehicle for the UK’s National Policing Digital Strategy announces major procurement contract for comms services and technologies

In a move aimed at boosting the capabilities of its essential communications service, the UK’s Police Digital Service (PDS) has announced a procurement contract for telecommunications and related equipment based on the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) standard.

The PDS is the delivery vehicle for the National Policing Digital Strategy, which was launched in 2020. The PDS has a vision that by 2030 it will deliver the capabilities to create a more digitally enhanced police service whose workforce can exploit data and technology more fully to inform improved decision-making, strengthen operational effectiveness, drive value for money and safeguard and protect the public better.

The organisation said that to protect the UK from harm in a rapidly changing world, police services must not only keep up with technology and business changes, but develop capabilities and ways of working that will enable them to adapt to, and deal with, the complexity of modern criminality. To that end, the PDS said it will harness the power of digital, data and technology to enable UK policing to better protect the communities it serves.

Its team covers commercial services, technical assurance, data, digital transformation and innovation, with what it claims is unique experience in policing and national programme delivery.

Under the new contract, the PDS is seeking to procure a multi-supplier framework agreement that can be used by the police, ambulance, fire and rescue and other user organisations within the public sector, including the Ofcom List of Generic and Sharer Organisations, for the provision of Tetra-compatible handsets, software, accessories, services and maintenance for use on the UK Airwave infrastructure that enables the police, fire and other emergency services to communicate securely with each other when first responders are working in the field and which sees use by emergency services in every region of the country.

Developed by Motorola Solutions, the Airwave network offers a secure private mobile radio communications platforms for all organisations involved in public safety and forms part of the UK’s new Emergency Services Network (ESN), which is used by all the country’s first responders.

The PDS contact, which will not be divided into lots, is valued at £50m. It encompasses: installation services of radio equipment; radio telephones; telecommunications equipment and supplies; a communications network; a radio network; emergency and security equipment; maintenance services of radio-communications equipment; communications system maintenance services; installation services of communications equipment; data-transmission equipment; radio equipment; IT services, including consulting, software development, internet and support; and repair and maintenance services.

The PDS said the procurement requirements and options for the framework will be determined as a result of pre-market engagement, which will begin on 4 February 2022. Market engagement is expected to inform the PDS on supplier interest and capability in relation to the delivery of Tetra handset products and services.

However, the deal comes after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in October 2021 opened an investigation into the role of the Airwave network, which was commissioned by the Home Office in 2000 when there was no alternative method for emergency services staff to communicate securely.

Read more about IT for emergency services

Motorola Solutions won one of the key contracts for the delivery of ESN in 2015 and acquired Airwave Solutions, the owner and operator of the Airwave network, in 2016. The network was ordered under a private finance initiative (PFI) framework arrangement that was due to end in December 2019, at which point it was expected to be shut down and a different secure communications system using a commercial 4G mobile network was to become operational.

In fact, the merger was first cleared by the CMA in part because of the general expectation that the Airwave network would be shut down by 2019.

The CMA was concerned that the market for the supply of the mobile radio network used by all emergency services in the UK might not be working well, resulting in a more expensive service for customers and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

The main reasons cited by the CMA for opening investigations were twofold: insufficient information (particularly in relation to the projects and associated costs needed to maintain and refresh the current network) being provided to the Home Office in negotiations on the pricing of the Airwave network and, as a result of this and the importance of the Airwave network for public safety in the UK, the Home Office was in a weak bargaining position and unable to secure value for money; and secondly, due to Motorola’s dual role, the company had an incentive to delay or shape the roll-out of the ESN to its advantage, given the significant profits it currently receives from operating the Airwave network.

There have been increasing concerns about the delays to the roll-out of ESN and costs to the UK taxpayer of the continuing operation of the Airwave network, which is now expected to continue operating until the end of 2026. Concerns were first expressed in the summer of 2021 about the impact of Motorola’s dual role as the owner of the company providing the current mobile radio network and as a key supplier in the roll-out of the planned new network.

The CMA’s decision to launch a market investigation followed a consultation that set out concerns about the impact of Motorola’s dual role. After the CMA considered the evidence gathered and reviewed the responses to this consultation, an independent group will now investigate the sector and decide whether there are problems, and if so, put in place appropriate solutions.

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