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Home Office claims progress for ESN



Significant tests for Emergency Services Network go successfully – but parliamentary committee is still unhappy with the progress

The first demonstration of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) has taken place, with a successful test on 8 February between a mobile mast in Bristol and a location in Basingstoke.

The Home Office, the department in charge of the programme, has claimed the move as a significant milestone, although it has come on the day than new concerns have been expressed over the pace of the delivery.

The ESN is being set up to replace the existing Airwave network with a 4G communications system for the three emergency services and other public safety users, with the main partners being mobile network operator EE and user services provider Motorola Solutions.

The test was the first time Motorola’s software was linked with the live EE mobile phone network to give emergency services priority on a public network.

Minister for Police and Fire Services 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.”

Devices, cables and calls

A series of other steps were flagged up by the Home Office as proof of the programme’s progress, including: the introduction of 130 handheld devices for testing; tests for reception in a rapid response vehicle; the laying of ‘leaky feeder’ cables (in which small sections of copper shielding are stripped for radio frequency signals to escape) in almost 100km of tunnels on the London Underground; and over 100 genuine 999 calls being made through masts set up as part of the programme.

These have come against the background of doubts being expressed over the progress of setting up the ESN. Last year Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) pointed to the pushing back of the planned implementation date and warned of dangers if the contracts for Airwave could not be extended.

On the day of the new announcement, it was reported in Computer Weekly that the PAC is still unhappy with the progress after receiving a letter from Home Office permanent secretary Philip Rutnam. It said that an in-depth review has not been published on schedule.

However, Vodafone has reportedly agreed it will not switch off a crucial component of the old Airwave system before the ESN is ready.

Picture from Scott Davidson (modified), CC 2.0 via flickr

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