PAC weighs in on threat to emergency services, ESN transition now expected to conclude in September 2020

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report warning that Vodafone’s plan to retire the Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) service that the Airwave TETRA network requires to function in March 2020, “"strikes a major, potentially catastrophic blow to the ability of our emergency services to carry out their job and keep citizens safe", given that the UK’s emergency services are now not expected to complete their transition on the Emergency Services Network (ESN) until September 2020. However, the tone of the report strongly contrasts with recent comments made by Steve Whatson, the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme’s (ESMCP) deputy director.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: "The potential consequences of a six-month gap in emergency service communications are unthinkable. Government needs to tackle this now or the result will be quite simply a tragedy in waiting.

“Addressing this and other serious concerns about ESN raised by our Committee today and in January are significant challenges for the new management at the Home Office."

The Home Office told the PAC in February that it was due to meet with Motorola Solutions and Vodafone to discuss options, that it was confident the issue would be resolved and that Motorola Solutions remained contractually obliged to supply Airwave for a fixed price.

While speaking to Land Mobile at the BAPCO Show at Telford in late March, Whatson (pictured below) said that this meeting had taken place. “…We’ve met with Vodafone and Motorola [Solutions]. They’ve proposed a number of options to resolve the problem and we’re just now waiting for them to come back with the details and then we can make a decision of which one we go with. I think as a risk or issue, it’s sliding rapidly down, because we’ll have a solution… Technically there are quite [a few] options, it’s just finding the right technical [and] economic option, given that… we want it to run for a little bit longer but we don’t want 10 years out of it….”

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