EE and O2 go head-to-head to provide ESN mobile network

Home Office names EE and O2 among the preferred bidders to build the new Emergency Services Network

The Home Office has invited mobile network operators EE and O2 to submit their final resilient mobile networking services bids for the new Emergency Services Network (ESN).

The two mobile network operators (MNOs) are among eight organisations, which were selected earlier this year, invited to submit their best and final offers for contracts to run the ESN.

EE and O2 are bidding on Lot 3 of the ESN contract to supply a resilient mobile services network for the police, fire and ambulance services using commercially available services.

The suppliers invited to bid on Lot 1, for a delivery partner, are Atkins, KBR, Lockheed Martin and Mott MacDonald. HP and Motorola are bidding on Lot 2, for user services.

Lot 4 of the procurement, which addressed mobile access in remote rural areas, was scrapped in January 2015 in light of commitments made by the bidding MNOs.

Mike Penning, minister for policing, said the goal was still to sign contracts later this year. The new network is set to go live in 2017, as the existing terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) private radio network contracts, all held by Airwave, begin to expire.

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“Making sure our emergency services have the best tools to help them do their job is paramount. As well as offering the emergency services much more capacity, flexibility and functionality than the old system, the network will also save the taxpayer around £1bn over the next 15 years,” said Penning.

The end of Tetra

Incumbent operator Airwave has – teething problems notwithstanding – been running the current Tetra system for a number of years, and was controversially dropped from the procurement process earlier this year.

The government is keen to enable blue light services to use broadband data services, as many of them increasingly rely on smartphone handsets. To accommodate and facilitate this, the plan is to enhance the commercial mobile network with extra coverage, resilience and security, with priority access for emergency services traffic.

The government claimed that as there was no dedicated spectrum available to give to the emergency services, it was impossible to procure a private network, not to mention too expensive, and has insisted coverage will “at least match what is currently provided”.

Nevertheless, some services have already announced plans to stick with what they know for the time being.

Earlier in May, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) wrangled an extension to the Firelink programme – used by all 57 fire and rescue services in England, Scotland and Wales – which means they will continue to use Airwave Tetra radios until the end of 2019, with an option to extend to 2020.

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