There has been a number of updates in recent weeks on the status of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) both from parliament and at the recent BAPCO event. In this post we’ll take a look at recent announcements, both of the network itself and new device launches.
ESN has been delayed twice, and whilst its current completion date is officially set at the end of next year, the Home Office has said it can no longer predict what the actual timetable will be.
That’s not great news for all of us that are working so hard to make ESN a success for our industry and the public.
Amber Rudd, Home Office Chief was questioned alongside Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, on the progress of department's largest project, which will see the £2.9bn Motorola-owned radio Airwave contract switched off at the end of 2019 and replaced by the £1.2bn 4G EE-run network. As most readers will know, the current network provided by Airwave uses a dedicated TETRA network, ESN is to use EE’s 4G network.
Sir Philip Rutnam admitted that the ESN is a complicated project and that the current radio system Airwave will initially operate in parallel. “Progress is being made, some very good progress in a number of areas. Is there more that needs to be done? Yes there is.”
He also said that the extensions to EE’s network to cover the areas needed by ESN were progressing as scheduled and that software and infrastructure development to operate the network in the London Underground were also progressing.
Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), wrote to Sir Philip Rutnam following the recent PAC hearing on the progress of the ESN project on 21 February. She stated:
“Given the longstanding concerns, the high-level strategic review of the programme and extensive re-planning exercise you are carrying out are vital but long overdue. Until these exercises are completed and a timetable for delivery is finalised it is difficult to gauge whether the developments outlined in your letter constitute real progress or not.”
She also added that she was encouraged “to hear that an agreement seems to have been reached between Motorola and Vodafone to ensure Airwave can continue in service.”
It’s not all doom and gloom however. A live demonstration of the ESN service took place at BAPCO 2018, with calls being made over an ESN handset provided by Samsung, Motorola Solutions’ software and the ESN network run by EE. For many end-users the demonstrations provided more trust in the further development of the ESN network. Although there are many hurdles to come, it now seems that the future of critical communications for public safety officers in the UK has moved in the right direction.
At the same event Simon McCutcheon, Head of Service governance at Motorola Solutions demonstrated end-to-end encrypted duplex telephony as a VoIP call over LTE, with pre-emption and priority. With their Push to Talk app, when a call is being made it shows the call sign of a person making a call and the number of people in the communications group (ESN’s equivalent of talk groups, given that the same groups are used for sharing messages and images). The app is used for both group calls and “point-to-point” calls.
Our own Managing Director, Mike Isherwood, also spoke at the event highlighting the work APD is doing to help organisations move their control rooms into the cloud. Designed to take advantage of ESN, reduce capital expenditure, increase the set of features and go beyond the functionality available in your ICCS, CRM and Location Services, our cloud control room provides a cloud-based data and communications platform that revolutionises your critical communications.
Samsung has revealed its new smartphone that will be deployed to front line emergency services staff. The new device will allow for users to utilise the live video broadcasting and for quicker access to records and intelligence. The device will feature “push to talk” (PTT) allowing users to communicate instantly across emergency services' talk groups.
Ruggedised for use in the field, the device also features a damage-resistant, Gorilla Glass 4 screen as well as water and dust resistance.
It is anticipated that the use of a single ESN 4G device will be more efficient and cost effective than using a combination of the existing Airwave devices with multiple commercial networks and standard 4G devices.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Samsung UK & Ireland Head of Public Safety Nick Ross said: “Emergency services staff on the front line require devices that are tough and reliable with seamless connectivity. Through rigorous testing specific to the needs of critical communications, we have developed a device that delivers on all of these points.”
We're closely anticipating further device announcements this year and we’ll keep you posted as and when they're released. More generally, whilst progress towards implementation of ESN has been delayed significantly, we continue developing our services to ensure they're fully compliant with both a hybrid ESN/TETRA network, and also towards a fully transitioned ESN.
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