Public Services > Blue Light

Home Office claims ESN demonstration success

David Bicknell Published 23 February 2018

Department highlights successful test using Motorola Solutions’ software and live EE mobile phone network to demonstrate prioritisation of emergency services communications


The Home Office has claimed a major landmark for its fledgling 4G Emergency Services Network (ESN) communications system for blue-light services saying it has achieved its first successful demonstration over a live public mobile network.

It said engineers had performed the test on February 8 between an EE mobile mast site in Bristol and a location in Basingstoke. The Home Office said it was the first time Motorola Solutions’ software has linked together with the live EE mobile phone network and demonstrated prioritisation of emergency services communications on a public network.

Minister for Policing and the Fire Service Nick Hurd said, “This is a complex project which will provide the emergency services with the most advanced communications system of its kind anywhere in the world – which is why successful tests like these are an excellent achievement.

“Members of the public are already seeing some of the incidental benefits of the project like its improvement of the 4G mobile network – 90% of the UK is now covered.”

Other progress in the delivery of ESN, the Home Office said, includes the testing of the first new rapid response vehicle with more on production; Transport for London has laying ‘leaky feeder’ cables in around 100km of tunnels out of a total of 420km in the London Underground; and over 100 genuine 999 calls received through masts in place due to ESN where there was previously no coverage, which it said, demonstrates the ability of ESN to help save lives even before the rollout is complete.

At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee earlier this week as part of a regular review of the project by the Commons financial watchdog, the programme’s senior responsible owner Stephen Webb pointed to new handheld devices for the ESN system, with 130 devices having now been produced for testing.

The MPs, however, still raised concerns over devices, asking, given delays on the programme, what  assurances the Home Office could provide that the emergency services will get the kit they need.

 Webb said, “We’ve been having some discussions with senior police users about that and a load of work has been going on to map the collection of devices there are, what state they are in to what extent there may be extra ones around. There was a lot of over purchasing of devices in the early days of the Airwave contract and there may well be quite a lot that have not been used very much and could potentially be recycled.” 

He added, “We don’t yet know what the scale is there are a lot of devices out there. The ESN device has now arrived and should begin testing in a few weeks’ time. Clearly because of the delay, the point at which they should be buying these devices has slipped a little. I accept it is difficult for planning for local police forces.”

Pressed on what he was going to do about it, Webb said, “We are working with them to see what we can do to minimise the risks that they have to go and buy more stuff. If there are actual devices out there, they could move from forces that have plenty to ones that have fewer. That would clearly be the best way to do it.”

Webb also pointed to a key software performance upgrade on functionality, saying it is due to arrive next Wednesday.

On mobile coverage for ESN, Webb said sites in the countryside that EE are building had progressed “reasonably well.” But he said extended area services (EAS) sites that  the Home Office itself is building are slightly behind what would have been necessary to deliver the original CR110 timescale and which were due to be ready by mid-June were now more likely to be ready at the end of 2018.

(Additional reporting by Matteo Natalucci)

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