UK government announces tender for user services on emergency services network

Next phase in controversial mobile network for UK emergency services sees request for Mobile Services Supplier to provide radio access network infrastructure and related services in contract valued over £900m

Just weeks after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recommended restricting how much tech firm Motorola Solutions can charge the country’s emergency services to use its Airwave Network on the emergency services network (ESN), the UK government is undertaking a procurement procedure to appoint what it calls a suitably capable and experienced provider of user services for the dedicated infrastructure.

In 2015, the UK Home Office contracted suppliers to provide a new ESN to replace the existing and well-liked Airwave terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network used by all 108 police, fire and ambulance services across England, Scotland and Wales to communicate between the field and control rooms. As part of its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), the Home Office intended ESN to fully replace Airwave, cost less and provide users with access to what it described as “modern” mobile data.

In 2015, the Home Office contracted mobile operator EE to provide priority access to its mobile network and increase network coverage. It also contracted Motorola Solutions UK for software and systems including critical features not normally found on a mobile network, such as a first-of-a-kind “push-to-talk” functionality.

Different suppliers were contracted for other parts of the programme, such as upgrading users’ systems and ensuring that ESN covers remote areas. In addition to winning one of the key contracts for the delivery of ESN in 2015, Motorola acquired Airwave Solutions, the owner and operator of the Airwave network, in 2016.

However, almost from inception, the entire ESN network has been beset by delays and cost overruns, attracting criticism which led to Motorola Solutions deciding to end early its involvement in the projectThe CMA opened an investigation into the role of the Airwave network in the ESN in October 2021, with a particular focus on the impact of Motorola’s dual role as the owner of the company providing the planned new mobile radio network and as a key supplier.

The ESN is not expected to be ready until at least 2026, more likely 2029, and the emergency services continue to rely on the Airwave Network, which the CMA regards as a monopoly provider of these essential communications services.

In outlining the new tender document, the UK government, through the ESMCP, stressed that details previously shared as part of the ESN market engagement activity has now been superseded by the new procurement and contract documentation issued in connection with this contract notice.

Read more about the UK ESN

The document notes that there will be more than 300,000 emergency service users who will rely on the system. These frontline emergency service users who will depend on ESN are envisaged as using handheld devices or operating equipment in 45,000 vehicles, more than 66 aircraft and more than 100 control rooms. All of Mobile Services Suppliers’ coverage will be available for ESN with specific contract provision for the majority of roads; user defined critical operational locations; up to 10,000 feet in the air and 12 nautical miles from Britain’s coastline.

More than 400 government and local public safety bodies use the current system, and the new tender document notes that they will potentially require the ability to use ESN. These other bodies may add up to approximately 50,000 additional connected devices, and may include the central government departments, non-departmental public bodies and agencies, local authorities in Great Britain and a number of charitable bodies and other organisations that interact with public safety bodies.

The ESMCP will be responsible for delivering the programme, and it said it needs companies with high standards to work with it to provide the technical building blocks needed.

Working with suppliers

The ESN will be provided by the User Services Supplier working in conjunction with other suppliers to the programme, principally the Mobile Services Supplier, currently EE. The Mobile Services Supplier will provide the radio access network infrastructure and related services.

The User Services Supplier will be responsible for: programme and project management delivery; system integration, including the production of end-to-end designs and managing the integration of all systems and interfaces necessary to deliver ESN; delivery of network and IT infrastructure as required for the User Services, including a dedicated dual 4G/5G standalone mobile core network; provision of a 3GPP-compliant service for mission-critical services (MCX) supporting mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), and data (MCData) and video (MCVideo) features.

The MCX Services, which are core to the User Services, will provide prioritised group and individual voice, data and video communications over the 4G mobile network, which is currently provided by EE.

In addition, the supplier will also be responsible for specification and certification services for third-party devices and systems to connect to ESN and provision of an enterprise mobility management service for ESN devices. There is also a customer support element, including a self-service interface, billing and reporting services, and a requirement for provision of service integration and service management, co-ordinating support from other ESN suppliers and managing end-to-end support for ESN.

The total value of the contract – running until 31 December 2031 with optional two-year extensions in 12-month periods – is valued at £895m excluding VAT. A minimum of three and a maximum of up to five qualified bidders will be shortlisted and invited to proceed to the next stage of the procurement.

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