Motorola, Vodafone Sign Contract to Continue Airwave Beyond 2020
Wednesday, February 28, 2018 | Comments

Motorola Solutions and Vodafone have agreed on a plan to keep the Airwave TETRA mission-critical voice network operational through at least 2020, while the U.K. Home Office said a report with a revised timeline and budget for the Emergency Service Network (ESN) should be available by end-July.

Last year, the U.K. Home Office received information that Vodafone plans to switch off Airwave from 31 March, 2020. Vodafone is a subcontractor to Motorola, which owns the Airwave network. ESN is a nationwide public-safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) network planned to replace Airwave.

Stephen Webb, senior responsible owner, Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), Home Office, said that a new solution at no extra cost to taxpayers will be ready by March 2020 when Vodafone originally planned to withdraw the old time division multiplexing (TDM) service.

“Vodafone will be providing essentially a replacement service over standard IP kind of technology,” Webb said during a hearing held by the U.K. Public Accounts Committee 21 February.

Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown confirmed the new contract with Vodafone during a 27 February financial investor webcast.

“As of today, we believe Airwave will be extended,” Brown said. “More specifically, we just signed a multimillion-dollar contract for a backbone ring to do backhaul to make the Airwave network available several years beyond 2020. We will continue to work closely with the U.K. Home Office both on Airwave and ESN to make sure their needs are met and we optimize the rollout of both networks.”

The U.K. Home Office report updating the committee on the ESN timelines and budget was originally expected in January. The review will now be available by the end of July, said Joanna Davinson, chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office. She joined the Home Office three months ago from IBM.

“We look forward to that review,” said Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier. “Clearly, there are emergency services out there that need this, and there is a lot of anxiety about who is going to pay for it.”

The U.K. National Audit Office plans to begin a review in the fall after the July report is delivered.

Webb also fielded questions about costs of both services to local agencies. “The way the financial model works is that [device costs] would fall to local forces,” he said. “There are core costs that we hold centrally and local costs that are held locally. They would continue to buy Airwave devices, or at some point they will be buying ESN devices, which have now arrived. The ESN device is starting through testing now and should be ready in a few weeks’ time.”

Webb said the Home Office is working with agencies to “map” the collection of the devices in the field, “what state they are in and to what extent there may be extra ones around,” he said. “There was a lot of over purchasing of devices in the early days of the Airwave contract, so there may well be quite a lot that have not been used very much and could be potentially recycled. We are working closely with them.”

In terms of coverage, Webb confirmed problems in some of the specialist areas, but the masts in EE’s general remote areas have proceeded well. Specialist areas include the various metros outside London. “Some of those have proven quite complicated, and more work is being done,” he said. “The actual sites out in the countryside that EE are building have progressed reasonably well.

“The extended area services, which are the ones we are building, will be slightly behind what would have been necessary to deliver the original … timescale, if you like. That was to be done by mid-June, but we are now talking more like the end of 2018 to finish those sites.”

The Home Office is also looking to launch a procurement on an air-to-ground solution, Webb said. The office released a statement summarizing recent process, including a demonstration over a live public mobile network.

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Comments
On 3/1/18, Mike Tubby said:
The statement "Last year the U.K. Home Office received information that Vodafone plans to switch off Airwave from 31 March 2020" is incorrect and misleading.

"Vodafone, which purchased the wired network company Cable Wireless, stated its intent to switch off its legacy Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) Ground Based Network (GBN) on which Airwave depends for links to approximately 60 of its base station sites." This statement would be closer to correct since Vodafone does not have the power to switch off Airwave.

Editor's Note: You are correct. Vodafone announced plans to switch off its legacy service, which affects Airwave. Thank you for the clarification.


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