UK Home Office awards Motorola Solutions with 15-month ESN extension worth more than $100 million
Motorola Solutions has been awarded a 15-month contract extension worth 82 million pounds (more than $104 million) to supply Kodiak push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) and other Emergency Services Network (ESN) services for United Kingdom (UK) public-safety agencies through December 2024.
In addition to adding time and money to Motorola Solutions’ previous ESN contract, the no-competition contract extension formally includes a transition from the WAVE 7000 platform to the “off-the-shelf” Kodiak PoC offering that Motorola Solutions acquired in 2017, according to the Home Office document outlining the contract award. With the ESN expected to replace the mission-critical-voice service provided by Airwave—the UK TETRA system that is also owned by Motorola Solutions—having a proven PoC product is important.
“The need for these changes has arisen because the ESN project is delayed and therefore changes are required to the delivery timetable,” the procurement document states. “Further, the change from Wave 7000 to the already-working Kodiak product de-risks delivery and enables the program to move to a standardized solution faster.”
This Home Office document does not identify the standardized solution. AT&T officials have pledged to provide first-responder subscribers to FirstNet—the U.S. government’s public-safety LTE initiative—with a choice of providers supplying services that comply fully with the 3GPP’s mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard during the next six months.
UK Home Office officials have not mentioned MCPTT in several hours of recent testimony and public speeches about the ESN. Motorola Solutions has stated that Kodiak meets most MCPTT guidelines today, but it will not be fully MCPTT compliant for some time, because it is not able to provide Proximity Services (ProSe), the direct-mode technology with the MCPTT standard. However, many public-safety representatives have questioned ProSe’s utility for first responders, because lower-powered LTE devices cannot match the direct-mode range of LMR.
When asked about the situation, a Motorola Solutions spokesperson confirmed that the Kodiak product that will be used in the ESN is the same one that is available to FIrstNet users today.
“Motorola Solutions will provide a 3GPP standards-based Kodiak push-to-talk (PTT) software solution which will integrate with the Emergency Services Network,” according to a Motorola Solutions statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Kodiak features and functionality will be introduced as part of the incremental rollout of ESN.”
As originally proposed, the ESN’s LTE push-to-talk service was supposed to replace Airwave at the end of this year. By retiring the expensive TETRA system with the ESN, the UK government expected to realize significant cost savings and give first responders a network that provided mission-critical voice and broadband data.
But this vision has been undermined by series of delays to the ESN rollout that have resulted in the massive project being more than $3 billion over budget and at least three years behind the original schedule. Home Office officials have stated that the earliest completion date for the ESN is December 2022—when the recent Airwave contract extension is set to expire—and that at least some portion of the Airwave network will be needed through 2023.
One change that the Home Office is making as part of this extension is a shift from a “big bang” approach to ESN deployment to an incremental delivery model.
“Motorola Solutions will continue to work closely with the Home Office and other partners throughout the incremental roll-out of the ESN to ensure a smooth transition for emergency services across the UK,” according to a statement from Motorola Solutions.
Two years ago, it became clear that the WAVE 7000 offering would not meet the needs of UK public safety, causing a rift in the relationship between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions—both sides “assumed the worst of each other,” according to Stephen Webb, the senior responsible owner for ESN in the Home Office. In contrast to this tension, one aspect of the ESN extension award is that “historic disputes and claims between the Home Office and Motorola are settled,” the procurement document states.
This ESN extension was not subject to a competitive bidding process, “which is justified, because the services being procured under the modified contract can be provided only by Motorola, because competition is absent for technical reasons,” according to the Home Office procurement document.
“The services required by the Home Office consist of the full rollout of the ESN solution as soon as reasonably possible (to transition away from and avoid the high costs of, Airwave and to improve end users’ PSCS),” the procurement document states. “The soonest that a full rollout could reasonably be achieved is by around December 2022.
“The Home Office is therefore procuring services which include the development and full rollout of an ESN solution by around December 2022 (along with a necessary contractual period thereafter, to facilitate transition to a new provider). Only Motorola can provide such services within that timeframe.”
South Korea’s SafeNet system and the United States’ FirstNet network are expected to provide public-safety LTE push-to-talk services from a provider other than Motorola Solutions. But the Home Office determined that switching to a vendor other than Motorola Solutions would result in an extra delay of 2-5 years and additional costs between 1.1 billion pounds (more than $1.4 billion) to 2.6 billion pounds (more than $3.3 billion).
“These figures take account of the fact that switching to a new provider would be likely to mean that the Home Office has not only to pay the new provider for the services, but also covers likely additional legal costs and contractual disputes,” according to the Home Office procurement document. “The context for these points is that the PSCS is critical national infrastructure.”
For a number of potential reasons, it is very likely that the UK government will need to pay Motorola Solutions to continue Airwave service beyond the current target date at the end of 2022. The fact that Motorola Solutions is the vendor designated to deliver the ESN push-to-talk software to replace Airwave has been a point of concern since Motorola Solutions purchased Airwave shortly after winning the ESN software contract.
“The Home Office will need to manage carefully the commercial consequences of renewing Airwave before changes to the Motorola contract have been agreed,” according to a recent UK National Audit Office (NAO) report, which was released shortly before the contract extending Airwave through December 2022 was signed. “Motorola will benefit from the successful development of ESN, but it also receives large revenues from the continued use of Airwave.
“Following its acquisitions of Airwave and Kodiak, Motorola owns several key components of the current and future emergency services communications systems, putting it at an advantage over any competitors when the ESN contract is renewed in 2024. Motorola is also a control room vendor, potential supplier of handsets and vehicle devices and in charge of accrediting devices and control rooms for ESN.”
UK Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has echoed this sentiment, noting that he does not like the government’s negotiation position, if any kind of Airwave extension deal is necessary. Currently, the cost of extending Airwave costs the UK government about 620 million pounds each year, he said.
“It does seem to me that, if you have any substantial amount of Airwave usage left [when an extension deal is needed for service beyond 2022], Motorola will inevitably say to you, ‘I’m sorry, we’ve got to invest a lot of money to do this. We’re putting the price up considerably,’” Clifton-Brown said during a PAC hearing in May. “You’ve lost your leverage, haven’t you really?”
Another problem for the Home Office is coverage. To match the coverage provided by Airwave, the Home Office assumed the responsibility of building 292 cell sites to augment the coverage provided by EE’s commercial network build, which is close to meeting the terms of the contract.
However, only two of the projected 292 Home Office cell sites have been built to date, according to the NAO report.
Despite these and other ESN buildout hurdles, Home Office officials have expressed confidence that the UK government will deliver the technical aspects of the ESN system. However, leaders in the Home Office have pledged that UK public-safety agencies will not be required to switch from Airwave to ESN until they are comfortable with the LTE offering, and officials are not certain when this important migration will be completed.