Commitment to improve poor mobile signal areas prompts change to ESN contracts

Industry-promised improvements in areas with poor mobile signal mean plans for a national ‘extension to mobile services’ contract for the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) are redundant in their current form, the Home Office has said.

Jan 21, 2015
By Paul Jacques

Industry-promised improvements in areas with poor mobile signal mean plans for a national ‘extension to mobile services’ contract for the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) are redundant in their current form, the Home Office has said.

Originally, areas of the country with poor or non-existent mobile coverage, which were not expected to be covered by the main ESN mobile services contract (Lot 3), were expected to be guaranteed signal by the extra ‘extension to mobile services’ contract (Lot 4).

However, evaluation of the tenders has revealed the main contract Lot 3 bids offer unexpected and significant improvements in poor signal areas, negating the need for a Lot 4 contract of the currently specified size and shape.

It is understood Arqiva was the only remaining bidder in Lot 4, with the other four bidders – Telefonica UK, Vodafone, EE and Airwave – reportedly all declining to submit a bid.

The contract was said to be unattractive commercially as it involves providing coverage along all the roads outside of the Lot 3 area, together with coverage in difficult and remote areas of the UK such as national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

It is also historically difficult to gain planning permission for radio masts in these areas and the timescales involved – it is estimated it can take some 24 months to locate suitable sites, obtain planning permission, design, install and test equipment, and provide base stations – would make difficult to deliver the contract on time.

Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, Mike Penning, said: “Although the tender bids are still being evaluated, it is clear that competition for contracts for the new ESN has resulted in offers by the mobile industry that are significantly beyond our initial expectations.

“The quality of the bids means the areas of the UK that would have remained covered by the Lot 4 ‘extension to mobile services’ contract are now significantly smaller than we envisaged, therefore we do not need to proceed with the contract in its current form.

“The new ESN will be the best in the world and give the emergency services new and vital tools they can use to protect the public and save lives.”

Specifications for the new network – part of the Government’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) – have been developed in close partnership with the emergency services and will add broadband data capabilities. Broadband data services cannot be delivered via the technology used by the existing Tetra system.

The new services will replace the existing system from 2017 as the current contracts expire. ESN is expected to enhance a commercial network to deliver broadband data services. The current service, Airwave, is run on a private mobile radio system.

The Government says that on an enhanced commercial network, the emergency services will have priority over other users, which will avoid the need for separate and expensive mobile radio spectrum. Coverage for the emergency services will at least match what is currently provided.

Best and final offers from the bidders are due to be submitted in March with the Government expected to announce the winners within two months.

The ESMCP held a supplier briefing last week on the additional services that will be required for, and during, transition to the ESN that are outside the scope of the main ESN procurement. These include: (central procurement) user devices and accessories, air-to-ground (A2G) network and devices, including the London Underground network, and vehicle communications replacement; and (local procurement) control room upgrades and interworking.

The briefing provided potential suppliers with background to the ESN, the related projects and the relevant technical data.

User devices and accessories – provide user devices and accessories for inclusion in an ESN device catalogue. The framework and initial set of approved user devices will be delivered by this project. However, the online catalogue w

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