U.K. Airwave Network Likely to Operate Until 2024 Due to ESN Delays
Thursday, September 17, 2020 | Comments
The U.K. Home Office said that Airwave network likely will not be turned off until at least the beginning of 2024 due to delays with the Emergency Services Network (ESN), which is intended to replace the Airwave network for the country’s emergency services.

“In terms of the dates, the absolute latest that we could turn Airwave off is 2025, and what we are seeking to do is to accelerate that date so that we can turn it off by the beginning of 2024,” U.K. Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft said during a hearing of the U.K. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. “If we could turn it off even sooner than that, then obviously we can, but I don’t want to give a date which then doesn’t get met.”

Home Office Chief Digital, Data and Technology Officer Joanna Davinson estimated that the Airwave network costs the U.K. 360 million to 400 million pounds per year to operate. Combined with some other additional contracts and costs, each year of the delay could cost the U.K. 550 million pounds, she said.

Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier expressed disappointment in the expected date, noting that given the progress of the project so far, the new ESN likely would not be ready until 2025.

Davinson said that one key reason for the timeline being pushed back was because of uncertainty in working out a testing and deployment plan.

“But the piece that was uncertain was working out the deployment, so the operational testing plan with the community — how do we give them the confidence that this will work in all scenarios — and then the logistics around the deployment planning,” Davinson said. “We have done a lot work with the community around that, with each of the emergency services. And as Matthew said, when we do left-to-right planning on that, with contingencies is what is taking us out to the end of 2024 and into ’25.” Figuring out that deployment plan has pushed back the release of a business case for the network, which has been long delayed. But that business case is now nearing completion, and a draft business case has been shared with the board of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), which oversees the ESN project, and senior users.

“We have a process through the autumn to review that with the Cabinet Office MPRG review team, so we do expect to finalize that business case … by the end of the year,” Davinson said. “I think March is a longstop date; we are working as hard we can to pull that forward.”

Davinson said that the Home Office is having conversations and looking at a number of things that it can do to accelerate the timeline.

The Home Office is currently working with users to get their buy in for the system. Right now, the office is working with emergency services on testing Direct 2 handsets, Davinson. She described that Direct 2 release as including “most of the core capabilities that ESN requires.”

“It’s working network,” she said. “It will be a SIM card that delivers priority, the application that enables us to prioritize emergency services’ use over the network. And the device is a specialized, ruggedized device; it’s a Samsung device. All of that we have now integrated, and we can prove that it works with Direct 2.”

Davinson said that the office will be working with fire and rescue and police services over the next few months to test the Direct 2 devices. That will lead to the delivery of the core final release, which will be called Prime, around the second quarter of 2021, likely in April.

Hillier noted that right now there are only about 1,000 handsets available right now and wondered how many would be in the hands of first responders by April. Davinson said it would be about 5,000.

In response to a committee question, Davinson said that the development of the handsets is going well, but that the delays had also impacted that area as well.

“In terms of designing and building the handset, yes, it is a really good product,” she said. “It is testing really well. There are some commercial discussions going on with Samsung because the contract we have with them depends on volume. They get paid against the volume of handsets that are out there and of course that is taking longer than the original plan, which is putting some pressure on them in terms of investing the necessary research and development funds to build the device. So far, we have worked that through with them.”

The committee asked Davinson about the status of the Kodiak push-to-talk (PTT) technology and whether it would be available with the rest of the network.

“Is the whole Kodiak development in timelines fitting in with the rest of the delivery of the program?” Hillier asked. “There is a danger that we keep chasing the gold standard on this, and then never settle because it is never going to be good enough for the services that will need it.”

Davinson replied that the Home Office, as part of the reset of the ESMCP, decided to switch to the Kodiak PTT solution because of it being Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) compliant and available off the shelf.

“As long as that technology evolves in line with that standard, we should stay current with what the product requires,” Davinson said. “Direct 2 is based on version 9 of Kodiak. We are currently testing Kodiak 10. That will be the product that we will release in Q2 next year as Prime, the final product with all the functionality in. Then there is a road map beyond that, where we will go to successive versions of Kodiak when they are released.”

In other technical matters, Davinson told the committee that the ESN network created by EE was up and working. She that the physical build of the network should be finished by the end of the year, potentially even in October.

Additionally, progress on the air-to-ground capability is being made. Davinson noted that a first test of the first air-to-ground mast had been completed.

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On 2/26/21, CLAUSTRE said:
Interest in international critical communications news


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