Home Office confirms new strategic direction for ESN
The Home Office has announced a new “phased” strategic direction for the Emergency Services Network (ESN) following an in-depth review.
It has also reached agreement with one of its key suppliers, Motorola Solutions, to extend the existing Motorola-owned Airwave nationwide digital radio network and to help implement the ESN’s new direction.
The Home Office said: “The emergency services will begin benefiting from their new mobile-based communications network in the New Year following the decision to roll the project out in phases.”
The new incremental approach means police, fire and rescue services, ambulance services and other users will be able to use data services over the network from early next year, with voice capabilities following soon after.
The Home Office said the new strategy will also “leave the emergency services free to test and choose which ESN products they want as and when they become available, rather than having to wait for the network to be fully implemented”.
Henry Rex, programme manager for justice and emergency services at industry representative body techUK, says the announcement follows a commitment by the Home Office earlier this summer to undertake a full “re-plan, engage in commercial renegotiations and recalculate the full business case”.
Stephen Webb, the senior responsible owner for the Government’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, hinted at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing earlier this year that the Home Office was considering the idea of “incremental capability” whereby emergency services users who felt able to could start to use ESN capability, while others could wait.
It followed criticism from PAC chair Meg Hillier, who said the ESN programme to replace the existing communications system Airwave was “over-ambitious in trying to establish an emergency service network more advanced than any other in the world”.
“It has run into endless complications which finds the project at least 15 months behind schedule, with some sources reporting that it may be delayed for five to ten years,” she said in her third annual report published in July.
The Home Office says the latest decision secures the future of the ESN, which will save £200 million a year once it has fully replaced the original radio-based Airwave network.
The ESN’s dedicated 4G network, being supplied by network operator EE, will transform emergency services’ mobile working, especially in remote areas and at times of network congestion, with sim cards giving them priority over commercial users.
As part of Motorola Solutions’ delivery of ESN User Services, products will include a ‘push-to-talk’ capability for mobile phones, effectively turning them into emergency service radios with data capability, a package of telephone, messaging and data services, and an air-to-ground communications app.
The Home Office says the ESN also has the potential to enable emergency services to communicate on the London Underground.
To allow for the new phased deployment strategy, the Motorola Solutions ESN agreement will be extended by 30 months through to the end of 2024.
The Airwave agreement, which is expected to be completed later in the year, will extend the network on substantially similar terms for three additional years to December 31, 2022, with the option to be further extended. The company will also upgrade this critical public safety network to ensure the requirements of public safety users continue to be met.
“We are proud to support the Home Office on its new delivery approach for ESN while at the same time ensuring public safety users have the Airwave communications network they need,” said Kelly Mark, executive vice-president, services and software at Motorola Solutions. “We have been working closely with the Home Office to ensure that our services are aligned with this new phased deployment and timeline for ESN.”
The Home Office is also engaging with commercial partner EE regarding future changes to its contract.