Vodafone Plans to Switch Off Airwave Service by March 2020
Friday, February 03, 2017 | Comments

The U.K. Home Office received information that Vodafone plans to switch off Airwave from 31 March, 2020, spurring a U.K. Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting on the topic with Home Office officials.

Home Office Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill said Motorola Solutions informed the Home Office 16 January about Vodafone’s plans. Motorola Solutions purchased the Airwave network in 2015. Vodafone is a subcontractor to Motorola.

The end-March 2020 date is part of the original contract Vodafone had with Airwave and six months earlier than the final rollout of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), set to replace Airwave. The Vodafone service includes the core network connectivity for the TETRA network’s core switches, radio sites and control rooms.

“It is clearly a significant issue if it proceeds as stated,” Sedwill said during the meeting. “Of course, what we need to do — we have plenty of time; we are talking about March 2020 — is to investigate all the options for mitigating this, both technical and financial and so on. We are doing that at a meeting with Motorola and Vodafone, which I think is in the next three weeks, to try to work through all those options and then determine how material this issue is.”

Sedwill said Motorola Solutions and Vodafone will bring propositions to the U.K. government to address the issue at the meeting.

Sedwill also said there is a nine-month delay in the final rollout of the ESN, the Long Term Evolution (LTE) network set to replace the Airwave TETRA network for emergency service officials.

“We are talking about a nine-month potential delay from the period we originally talked about,” he said. “The reason for much of the delay is that bits of the software are a bit later than we would like, and, largely, we have built in a lot more testing time but have also left the transition period where it is at the 27 months. We are much more confident — this new timescale is a lot more robust, with a lot more testing and trials time and the same amount of transition that we have always promised the users.”

In January, the U.K. House of Commons PAC, which scrutinizes the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending, said the ESN “may require more testing and assurance work than the current December 2019 delivery date seems to allow for.” However, the Home Office has not budgeted for an extended transition period or put in place detailed contingency arrangements to manage this risk, the report said.

During the meeting, Stephen Webb, senior responsible owner, Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), Home Office, provided more detail on the timing of the transition from the Airwave network to ESN.

Webb said the transition is scheduled to begin in mid-June to July 2018. “The aim is for major operation trials to be completed then,” Webb said. “The transition process can then begin.”

With a 27-month transition, the end of September 2020 would see the full transition as opposed to an end-2019 shutdown of Airwave that was previously planned.

“If we cannot bring the transition forward, we will need to ensure that we have the capability that Vodafone currently provides for at least another six months,” Webb said.

The U.K. government must give notification of the overall Airwave extension by the end of 2018, Webb said. Within six months of starting to transition, the government must tell Motorola Solutions which regions it will need to have the extension running in.

“We have to tell Motorola by the end of 2018 which regions we want to extend and for how long, so we need to give a year’s notice,” Webb said. “The March 2020 issue is a separate issue with Vodafone, and for that, under some options, we could just manage it, and we don’t need to give any particular notice.”

“If we decide to do some significant investment to reconfigure the network to enable us to replace the current Vodafone service, we would probably need to have decided that by the end of this year or early 2018. I am sorry; it is a little complex.”

No specific cost figures for the delay or Vodafone shutdown were provided during the meeting, although committee members grilled the government officials on potential cost overruns and further delays, as well as agreements with Motorola Solutions.

Motorola Solutions executives did not mention the Vodafone issue during the company’s fourth-quarter and full-year financial results webcast 2 February but did note the ESN delay.

“It has been delayed to mid-2018,” said Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown. “In terms of our responsibility for the ESN, we are on track. Our deliverables are progressing well against the Lot 2 requirements … we remain very closely aligned with the U.K. Home Office.”

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