The Home Office has confirmed the new £1 billion 4G-enabled Emergency Services Network (ESN) will be rolled out in phases, with police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews able to benefit from data services early next year.
There had been growing concerns that the 2019 deadline for full deployment would be missed, with the project 18 months behind schedule.
The Home Office has repeatedly the Airwave radio system currently used would not be switched off until it was absolutely convinced there was no risk to public safety.
Today it said its new “strategic direction” would allow forces to use data-rich applications without having to wait until deployment has been fully completed. When that happens, more than 330,000 users will rely on the ESN.
Voice services will be handed over at a later date, with the Home Office securing an agreement with Motorola Solutions to maintain and upgrade Airwave until at least the end of 2022.
“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.”
A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report said that delays to the ESN was costing police forces in England and Wales a combined £330 million a year because they had to keep on extending the life of the old equipment. However, when it goes fully live, ESN should save £200 million a year in operational savings.
EE won the contract to build more than 400 new sites and to develop a core system to support the ESN, while long range 800MHz spectrum will be deployed at 3,500 locations. The network will be able to prioritise ESN traffic when required and the firm will introduce satellite backhaul for hard to reach areas. The tube in London will also be covered.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.