Motorola Solutions agrees to multiyear extensions on Airwave, ESN contracts in the UK
United Kingdom (UK) public-safety agencies will be able to use the Airwave TETRA network through at least 2022 and Motorola Solutions-provided broadband services at least through 2024 on the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) system, according to separate statements issued today by the Home Office and Motorola Solutions.
First-responder agencies will begin to use the ESN next year, as the Home Office pursues its new plan for the much-delayed public-safety broadband network, which now will be deployed “in phases,” according to a Home Office announcement.
“The department today announces it has set a new strategic direction for the Emergency Services Network (ESN) following an in-depth review,” according to the announcement on the Home Office web site. “The decision secures the future of ESN, which will save the public purse £200 million a year, once it has fully replaced the original radio-based network, Airwave.
“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.
It 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.”
Probably the most-watched of the ESN products will be push-to-talk capability on smartphones, according to the Home Office. Originally, this push-to-talk functionality was expected to replace the need for TETRA radios on the Airwave network, which was supposed to be retired at the end of 2019.
However, ESN deployment delays—the public-safety broadband system was supposed to be operational in 2016 under the original proposal—made it clear that the Motorola Solutions-owned Airwave network would be needed for mission-critical voice communications beyond 2019.
Motorola Solutions said that the Home Office has agreed to extend the Airwave contract by at least an additional three years to the end of 2022.
“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 Dec. 31, 2022, with the option to be further extended,” according to a Motorola Solutions press release. “The company will also upgrade this critical public-safety network to ensure the requirements of public-safety users continue to be met.”
In May, Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown said that company officials believed that the Airwave contract would be extended by “five years or more.”
UK officials have stated that public-safety agencies would not be required to abandon the Airwave by a specific deadline, and the revamped plan for the network will feature a phased-deployment approach that has not been detailed.
With this in mind, the Motorola Solution ESN agreement will be extended by 30 months, through the end of 2024. During that time, Motorola Solutions will implement on the ESN “a 3GPP standards-based push-to-talk (PTT) software solution” from Kodiak Networks, which Motorola Solutions purchased last year.
“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,” Kelly Mark, executive vice president, services and software at Motorola Solutions, said in a prepared statement. “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.”
While the Home Office announcement touts the fact that the ESN will save taxpayers £200 million annually when public-safety agencies transition to the broadband network completely and the Airwave network can be shut down, the fact that both networks will have to be funded for several years promises to be a financial concern within the UK.
Under the original ESN schedule, the Airwave system would have been closed by the end of 2019 and the projected savings would have realized immediately. Instead, funding both networks simultaneously for at least three years is expected to result in significant cost increases for the Home Office.
Meanwhile, members of Parliament noted this summer that the situation likely will create a difficult budget situation for UK public-safety agencies, which are responsible for paying for their devices. Under the original ESN plan, agencies would have been able to stop purchasing new TETRA radios and utilize those funds to buy LTE handset for use on the ESN. However, under the new plan, agencies likely will have to purchase more TETRA devices, which could limit their ability to buy devices that are designed to work on the ESN system.
“The Home Office is engaging with its commercial partners, EE [the wireless carrier contracted to deploy the ESN system] and Motorola, regarding future changes to their contracts,” according to the Home Office announcement. “Further details will be provided to Parliament in due course.”
Last week, the Home Office initiated a procurement to find a vendor who can provide air-to-ground communications for the ESN.