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'Blue light services will get 4G on London Tube!' Cool, how? 'Errrrm...'

Emergency Services Network deal mired in confusion as Airwave flings sueball

The government's contentious Emergency Services Network deal, intended to provide 4G coverage and devices for all blue light services, will be able to run on the London Underground, the man in charge of the scheme has insisted.

Stephen Webb, senior responsible owner of the ESN deal, said: "We will have a solution that works on the Underground. Exactly how and when don’t know yet, but we will be able to match current service."

Speaking to The Register at the Police ICT Suppliers Summit, he said it may be a case of "sweating what we have" before transitioning over to a network run by EE. He said the body is in talks with the provider and Transport for London to make it happen.

"4G on the London Underground is perfectly possible," he said.

In December last year EE won part of the £1.2bn ESN contract, which will replace the previous £2.9bn digital radio communications supplied by Airwave.

However, following the announcement Airwave launched a legal challenge against the Home Office, alleging that the government had shifted the goalposts of the contract after the tender was let and unfairly discriminated against it. Airwave had bid to run the new contract.

According to court documents lodged at the Technology and Construction Court by Airwave, and seen by The Guardian, the contract changes included no provision for a 4G network on the Underground.

It also notes the removal of obligation to provide coverage in rural areas, including approximately 5km of major roads, 399km of minor roads and the exclusion of minor road areas below 300 metres where the probability of a signal is less than 50 per cent.

However, Webb told The Register that coverage was a clear requirement in the contract.

"We are going to match the current level of coverage," he said. He said there are currently 5km of roads the public cannot dial 999 on. "By expanding the ESN to those areas [they] will be able to [call the emergency services]," he said.

Under the contract the government also wants to provide live video from body worn cameras transmitted from crime scenes; high definition images enabling hospital consultants to make remote diagnosis and treatment recommendations at accident sites; and sharing in real time of 3D maps of buildings at fire scenes.

It will also involve the deployment of 130,000 new handheld devices. Webb noted that some police currently carry four separate devices with them. He said a provider had not been identified yet, but it would likely be an off-the-shelf consumer device with a few security "tweaks".

In December Motorola won the second lot in the ESN contract and will be responsible installing and operating the infrastructure – five days after it announced its acquisition of Airwave for £817m.

The acquisition is expected to be complete next month, and is not expected to halt the legal action Airwave is taking against the Home Office, which will be heard in court this year.

The Home Office has said it will fight the challenge and has said EE was selected to build the new network because it was the most cost effective option.

The Home Office has issued a new tender for "extended area services" under the contract intended to give the new network the extra coverage required by the emergency services beyond that provided by EE's existing commercial 4G mobile network. Suppliers have been asked submit bids for the framework contract by 9 May 2016. ®

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