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Airwave to fight Home Office in court over ESN award

Emergency services communications operator Airwave takes the government to court over the awarding of Lot 3 of the ESMCP to EE

Incumbent emergency services communications supplier Airwave is to take the Home Office to court over the procurement of Lot 3 – mobile services – of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), claiming it was not given fair treatment under procurement laws.

Airwave is the current operator of the terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network that connects all UK police, fire and ambulance services.

It was one of a number of potential bidders on Lot 3 of the ESMCP procurement, but walked away from the process earlier in 2015 amid suggestions the government felt that Tetra was too expensive and too inflexible.

The procurement process has been dogged by controversy throughout 2015, culminating in the withdrawal of HP and O2 from the bidding process over the summer, HP from Lot 2 and O2 from Lot 3.

At the time both HP and O2 cited similar concerns over the risks associated with ditching the tried and tested private Tetra system in favour of a 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile network shared with the general public.

In an exclusive interview in October 2015, Airwave CTO John Lewis told Computer Weekly that 4G LTE was simply not ready to meet the needs of the emergency services, particularly in remote parts of the country where obtaining even 3G network connectivity is a struggle.

“You don’t throw out old technology until new technology is ready. Motorola, the only bidder left on Lot 2, says LTE won’t be ready until 2020 or 2022, so even the government bidders who are going to deliver the system don’t think it will be ready,” he said.

However, with EE being quietly confirmed as the preferred bidder on Lot 3 – and Motorola on Lot 2 – earlier in November 2015, Airwave has now made a counter move just in advance of the expiry of the cooling off period.

In a brief statement, Airwave said: “We have issued a claim against the Home Office relating to the procurement for Lot 3 of the proposed emergency services network.  

“We do not believe that bidders, including Airwave, were given equal treatment under relevant procurement laws and we have therefore made a claim in order to protect our position for any loss suffered.”

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed Airwave had challenged the award to EE of Lot 3 of the ESMCP.

"The Home Office will vigorously contest this challenge. We are confident we have identified suppliers who can deliver a service which will improve public safety and cost considerably less than current arrangements,” said the spokesperson.

It is understood that the Home Office intends to seek the earliest possible hearing to keep the overall process on track, and will also seek damages to protect itself from any delay costs resulting from Airwave’s challenge.

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