Motorola Solutions CEO anticipates extension of Airwave contract in UK by end of year
A new deal between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions to extend the life of the Airwave TETRA system that provides mission-critical LMR communications to first responders in the United Kingdom (UK) likely will be finalized by the end of this year, according to Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown.
“I’m not going to speak for the customer [the UK Home Office], but they have said publicly that they want to extend it again,” Brown said yesterday during the virtual technology, media and communications conference hosted by J.P. Morgan. “By contract, that has to be extended again by the end of this calendar year, and the customer is already engaged in conversations, deciding how long ultimately they will do that.”
“So, it would be my anticipation that Airwave gets extended contractually by the end of the year. [For] how long? We’ll see, but it has proven to be absolutely mission critical, and when you talk to many of the users, they will tell you that, as well.”
Although the Airwave network initially was supposed to be replaced by the LTE-based Emergency Services Network (ESN) in 2019, this communications transition has been delayed numerous times, resulting in the Home Office signing extensions with Motorola Solutions. Motorola Solutions announced its plans to buy Airwave for about $1 billion in December 2015, shortly after Motorola Solutions was selected to provide software services for the ESN.
Motorola Solutions’ current Airwave contract with the Home Office—a three-year, $1.45 billion extension signed in 2018—is scheduled to expire at the end of 2022, but UK officials repeatedly have indicated the need for another extension in recent years.
In September 2020, Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft said that the goal was to turn off the Airwave system at the beginning of 2024 and that the “absolute latest” date for retiring the TETRA network was 2025. ESN Programme Director John Black in March described that timeline as “overambitious” and said that a new deployment plan would be issued at the end of March, but a new timetable has not been released publicly to date.
Brown said he understands why is it difficult to retire a mission-critical network like Airwave, which he said provides 99% coverage.
“When you think about a network to contemplate replacing an LMR network, the requirements for performance are breathtakingly stringent,” Brown said.
“I know that the UK Home Office aspires to have ESN do more and more. We support that. We will obviously fuel and work with them closely to enable ESN. But by the customer’s own admission, I think that Airwave and ESN—much like here in the [United] States—LMR and LTE will coexist for a lot longer.”
This trend also has spread to Germany, where Motorola Solutions recently won a large deal involving “LTE complementing LMR” for the German Ministry of Defense
“In all three of these theaters, we see a recognition of the criticality and duration of LMR, but [entities] also wanting higher-speed LTE 4G, and eventually 5G, for … video and data to complement and integrate with LMR—not necessarily as a substitute, but as a complement,” Brown said.