UK government considers delaying 4G programme for emergency services

31 May 2018

Three parked NHS ambulances in diminishing perspective. Image: Don Fritz/Shutterstock

Authorities in the UK are to review a scheme to move emergency services communications from radio to 4G.

A plan to roll out a 4G Emergency Services Network (ESN), along with supplying UK emergency services with 4G-enabled devices, may be on the rocks, according to a report from The Register.

The UK Home Office had dubbed the project the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) and it was pegged to replace the current Airwave service, which is owned by Motorola.

The ESN was to cost £1.2bn and EE was set to implement it. Airwave was initially due to be switched off by the end of 2019.

Delays mount

The Home Office is now resetting the scheme as delays mount, with a review of proceedings set to be published in July.

The extension of the Airwave radio service is expected to cost between £360m and £475m annually and sources say the service might need to be extended for another five to 10 years.

Two options

There are now two basic options proposed. The first is an incremental introduction of ESN, including a data-only option where Airwave is used solely for voice, and 4G devices are used for data only. An agreement to continue to run Airwave until all needs are met would also be required.

The second suggestion is an effective shutdown of ESMCP for the emergency services until a future, as yet undecided, date.

Regardless of the option chosen, the Home Office said it would still be making significant changes to the “structure and delivery of ESMCP”.

A spokesperson for the government said: “This a complex project which will provide the emergency services with the most advanced communications system of its kind anywhere in the world. We keep the delivery of ESN and the continued use of Airwave under constant review. We have not made any decisions about extending relevant contracts.

“We will have a clearer picture of delivery timescales once the ongoing review of the programme is complete.”

The new system is a major change compared to existing ESN solutions and is not yet in use nationwide in any other location in the world.

Three parked NHS ambulances in diminishing perspective. Image: Don Fritz/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects