Discussion room: Public safety

Take part in discussions on key public safety issues with other industry experts.

The future of ESN

Started 6 days ago

Most European nations have a dedicated, well-established & trusted, specialised critical communications operator sitting between the Interior Ministry and the public safety agencies & end-users. This same operator is ideally placed to lead the transition from narrowband TETRA to broadband LTE/5G taking into account local requirements & conditions.

UK Home Office/ESN are increasingly looking like outliers, struggling to deliver an operational public safety LTE network in spite of being one of the first to start their transition, & now embroiled in a lengthy & highly damaging dispute with its key technology supplier.

Can ESN actually ever be delivered under the current model or does the UK need to align more with its European counterparts to get ESN over the line?

Hello Peter.

Can you explain in a few words the difference between the ESN model and its European counterparts?

Thank you.

Hi Avi. The major difference, at least for the purposes of this discussion, is where ESN is positioned in terms of its governance. ESMCP is sits squarely in the UK Home Office (ie, within government itself) as opposed to - say - BDBOS in Germany, whose parent agency is the MoI, but (as I understand it, anyway) is an entity in and of itself.

@Peter, do you have a view on the efficacy of the two models? What's the difference in real terms? 


I think the main differences are governance & accountability.

Whereas in UK, ESN is run by the ESMCP programme within the UK Home Office, with Airwave in charge of the TETRA network & EE offering its LTE network capacity to ESN & numerous other contractors having signed agreements with UK Government; in most European countries, a separate critical communications operator is in charge, by law, of guaranteeing critical communications, managing the transition from TETRA to LTE/5G as a single entity & trusted partner for public safety agencies & end-users. 

In UK, there is a clear tension & non-alignment of incentives between Airwave & ESN, which has been exacerbated since late 2015/early 2016 by allowing a single company - Motorola Solutions - to be involved on the critical path of both "entities". By having one single critical operator, at arm's length from Government, albeit probably Government-owned, with its own Board & Management Team, the transition from one solution to the next generation should be easier to manage.

I therefore am concerned that even if UK Home Office/ESN manages to replace Motorola Solutions with another MCX provider in Lot 2, that will not resolve the governance model. Ironically, during their most recent submission to the CMA investigation, Motorola agrees with me that UK should move to a new, over-arching technology-neutral procurement process that would move UK towards "the European model".

Thank you, Philip.

What would you and others in this conversation recommend if you started a new project?

Peter's answer to your question can help.

Thank you.

It looks challenging.

What would you recommend if you started a new project these days? 

Thank you.


That's an incredibly difficult question to answer, because the context is going to be so different from one nation state to the next. Very broadly, the will to do it in the first place and follow it though is obviously crucial, alongside the cultivation of a willing ecosystem of suppliers. It's also absolutely crucial to focus user on engagement in order to win trust and build consensus early on. 

At the risk of sounding harsh, the first couple of years of the ESN programme is going to be instructive for anyone wanting to learn how not to do it. But again, the programme was dealing with its own set of pressures etc.