Ofcom suggests Motorola Solutions and Sepura broke competition law in Airwave tender

(Image credit: Image Credit: dagmarbendel / Pixabay)

Ofcom has uncovered evidence that Motorola Solutions and Sepura broke UK and EU competition by sharing pricing information about TETRA equipment during a procurement exercise for Airwave, the UK Emergency Services Network (ESN).

Both companies are suppliers of handsets and other radio technologies that currently powers Airwave communications services for the police, fire, and ambulance services.

A 4G ESN was due to go live in 2017 but the project has been subject to repeated delays and budgetary issues. The Home Office had originally wanted to switch off Airwave in late 2019 but instead decided to reset the 4G ESN project and introduce the new network in phases.

Airwave ESN

This revised schedule necessitated further procurement of TETRA technology in late 2018. In 2019 it was confirmed that the government had reached an agreement with Motorola Solutions to maintain and upgrade Airwave until at least the end of 2022.

However, Ofcom has since uncovered evidence that during the tender process conducted by the Police ICT Company, Motorola and Sepura shared “competitively sensitive information” that could have affected the process.

Ofcom has informed both companies of its findings in a ‘Statement of Objections’, which is the latest stage in the investigation, and it is not a final ruling. Ofcom can now use additional powers to aid its investigation and will now invite the companies involved to share their side of the story.

“Ofcom has provisionally found that, between 5 September 2018 and at least 18 September 2018, senior employees at Motorola and Sepura exchanged information on strategic pricing intentions for the tender run by the Police ICT Company,” the regulator said in a statement.

“Motorola and Sepura can now make representations to Ofcom, which we will carefully consider before taking a final decision.”

A Motorola Solutions spokesperson said:

“As a leader in mission-critical communications and a trusted technology partner with governments and enterprises worldwide, legal compliance is of utmost importance to Motorola Solutions. The company has robust ethics compliance procedures and takes appropriate action when needed.

"We continue to fully cooperate with Ofcom. As this is an ongoing process, we are unable to give further information at this time.”

The ESN promises to provide access to data-rich applications that will improve public safety alongside significant cost savings – when it is finally switched on. The aforementioned delays and ballooning budget have attracted criticism from the National Audit Office (NAO), which has continually expressed doubts about the Home Office’s ability to meet its targets.

The Home Office has confirmed the revised 2022 target will be missed and that Airwave will not be switched off until at least 2024 when the transition to a push-to-talk system based on the ESN is near completion. The project is now at least £3 billion over budget.

Sepura has been contacted for comment.

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.