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O2 out of UK emergency services LTE tender, EE lone runner

Emergency Services Safety TETRA Critical Communications

Government plans to move emergency communication services to cellular infrastructure have taken a knock after O2, one of just two mobile operators tendering for the contract, pulled out of the running, according to the FT.

O2’s decision to withdraw stems from its impending acquisition by Hutchison Whampoa, with the mobile operator primarily citing commercial considerations. Its withdrawal leaves EE, and therefore BT, as the only remaining bidder for the contract. Naturally, the Home Office said it was disappointed one of the UK’s largest operators had withdrawn from the tender process.

“O2 Telefónica’s decision to withdraw, for commercial reasons, from the procurement process to provide the UK with a new emergency services communications network is disappointing,” it said.

The government’s stated plans to migrate emergency communications services from TETRA two-way radio networks to a cellular, ubiquitous 4G service has been protracted and slow to move, perhaps unsurprisingly. In 2013, the Home Office announced the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) – plans for a dedicated emergency services network (ESN) which it said would “provide the next generation integrated critical voice and broadband data services for the 3ES (police, fire and rescue, and ambulance).”

At the time, eight firms were said to be in the running for the contract to run various aspects of the new network, which is split in to three “Lots”. Lot 1 consisted of delivery partners to ensure the smooth integration with and migration to existing TETRA infrastructure and the ESN; Lot 2, meanwhile, related to user services, account management and device management; while Lot 3 is the mobile service being provided by an MNO. O2’s withdrawal means EE is the only operator running for the Lot 3 contract, which is due to be awarded in late 2015.

Due to cellular ‘not-spots’, the government initially considered a 4th Lot, which would have seen a contracted agreement for an MNO to extend guaranteed signal coverage to ensure mobile coverage. It retracted its desire to tender a Lot 4 contract, stating its evaluation efforts concluded that areas of poor mobile coverage are few and far between, and revisions to the requirements of the Lot 3 contract will see sufficient coverage gains.

Mike Penning, Minister for Policing, reckons an LTE-based emergency services network is integral to the future of public safety.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Last year, Ofcom cited emergency service-oriented cellular network coverage as one of its key ambitions for its future UK communications strategy. Transition to ESN scheduled to occur from the start of 2017, running through until 2019.

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3 comments

  1. david wright 09/06/2015 @ 6:01 pm

    As indoor performance, plus Scotland representing 25% of UK Landmass but only less than 10% of Population, is very badly served by all UK Mobile LTE Networks, the Ministers comments would appear rather ‘uninformed?’. Sadly, there is widespread confusion between Simple Geographic ‘Power’ Coverage & Actual Mobile User Performances.

    Future Proof & ‘viable’ services are vital to all emergency services users, which ever part of the UK they are operating within. On the Path to 5G, let’s ‘hope’ a little Vision gets included…along with the ‘cost’ considerations!

    • scott stonham 10/06/2015 @ 10:11 am

      David, I have to say that whilst significant coverage improvements have been made, and most of the carriers have robust plans for filling in the gaps, I am equally surprised at the opinion that not-spots are few and far between.

  2. John 12/06/2015 @ 2:01 pm

    I have direct knowledge of this sector 4g is still rolling out on the EE network following the merger of orange and t mobile the 2g network had to be re designed
    Using Nokia it’s now going to the rural areas.
    More of concern is the decommissioning many masts and the outsourcing of many operations including o&m. Will BT be able to meet the SLA for public safety coverage in remote areas.
    Access is key and difficult airwave have the same issues but propogate further on 400Mhz than 1800 or 800 from a single tower.
    It can work but will need a redesign of the power and transport links from those used at the moment.

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