The services that make up the government’s much-delayed new emergency communications system will be introduced in stages beginning next year, the Home Office has said.
The department’s “new strategic direction” for the Emergency Services Network will mean services are deployed “incrementally”, rather than all at once as initially planned. The rollout of mobile data services will begin early next year, followed shortly thereafter by voice services.
The Home Office declined to say when the rollout would be completed.
Meanwhile, the lifespan of the outgoing emergency services' Airwave network will be extended for at least three years as the services while its replacement is rolled out.
These services will be provided by Motorola Solutions, via a network owned by EE. The US technology giant will continue to support the radio-based network until at least the end of 2022 – three years after it was originally scheduled to be switched off. The Home Office has the option to extend this support even further, if required.
The extension would allow public safety organisations to roll out the ESN "at their desired pace while maintaining the Airwave network service to ensure uninterrupted service", the company said in a statement.
Work on ESN began in 2011 and the cost of the project to date stands at about £5bn, data recently released by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has revealed. The transition from Airwave services was due to begin this summer and be completed before the end of 2019, but the project is estimated to be “at least 15 months behind schedule”, according to a report this month from the National Audit Office.
However, it has been speculated that the delays could extend much further and in June it was reported that the system could be delayed by as much as ten years.
The phased implementation of ESN will mean the UK’s ambulance, police, and fire services will be “free to test and choose which ESN products they want as and when they become available, rather than having to wait for the network to be fully implemented”, the Home Office said.
More details on the changes being made to the ESN programme “will be provided to parliament in due course”, the Home Office said. A full business case for the revamped project is expected to be published by the government in early 2019.
The National Fire Chiefs Council welcomed the decision to roll out ESN incrementally. “I’m pleased that the future of the Emergency Services Network is looking secure, as it offers fantastic opportunities for the future,” said Daryl Keen, NFCC lead for operational communications and Hertfordshire’s chief fire officer.
Earlier this monrh the NAO found that, all the while it needs to maintain the Airwave network, the Home Office must find £330m from the policing budget each year to fund its upkeep.