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ESN "still has a long way to go" says new programme chief

No fixed date yet for switching off Airwave and prototype devices are reaching 'end of life'.

ESN

Date - 2nd March 2021
By - Gary Mason
11 Comments 11 Comments}

There is still no date for the first roll out of the Airwave replacement network and the prototype handsets that officers will get to test during field trials in April will be obsolete before it goes live,

John Black is the new Programme Director of the ESN (Emergency Services Network) project having been appointed last July in a Home Office "refesh" of the programme team.

The project is now five years old and has cost over £4billion but it is still valid he says.

“Airwave is a technology that is coming to the end of life, and has no real data capability and is a bespoke network that is extremely expensive to run,” he told the BAPCO conference.

By April he said the programme will start to distribute the 5,000 prototype Samsung FieldPro devices to the emergency services for live trials.

“We want to get those into the hands of officers and start to get some real world experience and feedback in order to build confidence that the system works,” he added.

The devices which are similar to smartphones have a Kodiac push to talk app for voice communications but will be obsolete before the working roll out is ready.

That means that the project will have to procure some non ruggedised devices or possibly adapt some existing Airwave handsets for use at the start of the proper roll out once the Airwave system is finally switched off.

He also said the programme does not yet have a date for when the network  - ESN Version 1 – will be activated but a beta version of the system (again just a prototype) might be ready by early next year.

“We have another device we are talking about in terms of procurement right now,” he said “The current device will be at end of life before roll out. One of the challenges that we have is that the device marketplace moves pretty damn quickly compared to our deployment timescales.

“So we need to find ways of introducing new devices quickly.”

There are also issues with the encryption technology  - SRTP – that will make the network secure for police use. “We were worried about the overhead it would impose and restrict coverage because at the edges of the cell it was harder to get an active signal,” he said.

More testing is needed to prove that it is working reliably.

He said the programme has successfully demonstrated fixed vehicle prototype devices and two way voice communications from air to ground.

On the EE 4G network the ESN will be connected to, 1,100 new masts need to be built to ensure full UK coverage. To date some 430 have been built and activated.

“There is still a long way to go,” he said. There still needs to be two more releases of the push to talk software before all the functions that the users need are in place to start a proper roll out.

The programme has also had some recent governance issues.

The new programme management pushed out a full business case for the project last August which was rejected “because frankly it was over ambitious,” he said.

A new plan is being reissued at the end of March which is hoped will be signed off by the senior users on the programme soon after.  

“There comes a point in any big programme where you need to stop discussing the possibilities of what might be and focus on the first release. That’s the point we are at now,” he said.

He said the overriding goal is to get the project rolled out so that Airwave can be shut down.

That means that fully integrated voice and data might have to wait while the mission critical functionality is given priority.  

He said that the feedback from the user community is to get some certainty on dates because police forces and other blue light services need to build in training and device procurement timescales into any replacement cut off dates .

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PCsensible - Sat, 06 March 2021

City of London police serious fraud team need to look at this, they will have a field day