CGI selected to streamline UK ESN programme

Controversial mobile network for UK emergency services mobile communications enters new phase with consulting firm appointed as technology delivery partner

The saga of the delivery of a new critical communications system for the UK’s emergency responders, the Emergency Services Network (ESN), has reached a new chapter, with the UK government’s Home Office selecting IT and business consulting services firm CGI as the programme’s technology delivery partner in a five-year deal valued at £46.43m.

The story of the ESN began in 2015, when the 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 police, fire and ambulance services across England, Scotland and Wales to communicate between the field and control rooms.

It was designed to provide a more robust communications network, with more cost efficiency, significantly streamlining communication capabilities and facilitating first response, enabling fast, safe and secure voice video and data across the 4G network, giving responders immediate access to life-saving data, images and information in live situations and emergencies on the front line.

Working through 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 4G 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. 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 that led to Motorola Solutions deciding to prematurely end 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 a key supplier.

As a result, 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.

Read more about the ESN

In May 2023, the UK government released a tender document through the ESMCP, notifying the IT industry that details previously shared as part of the ESN market engagement activity had been superseded by the new procurement and contract documentation.

In gaining its delivery contract, CGI said it was looking to provide a more robust and cost-efficient network for all emergency service providers. It said it could offer a rich resource of public safety expertise both within CGI and across its partner ecosystem, providing the Home Office and the emergency services with embedded senior leadership to offer consultative and actionable advice and counsel to achieve programme completion within the contracted five years.

“CGI has a strong track record in delivering national critical infrastructure across the public safety landscape,” said CGI senior vice-president of consulting services David Filmer.

“As a business, our core ethos is to deliver complex things well, enabling insights our clients can act on, and our commitment to this partnership with the ESMCP is no different,” he said. “Through our extensive telecoms experience and alignment to the mission, we can offer a bespoke and scalable partnership to meet the programme’s needs.”

ESMCP programme director John Black added: “The Emergency Services Network will provide Britain’s first responders with critical communications technology that will give them up-to-date voice and data communications in emergency situations, helping to keep the public safe.

“We’re delighted to welcome CGI as part of our team. They will add expertise and experience in large-scale technology delivery at this important stage in our delivery of the Emergency Services Network. We look forward to working with CGI as we complete the delivery of the network, and start work on mobilisation and deployment across hundreds of user organisations over the next five years.”

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