- Device to device worries prompt ESN hardware rethink.
- Home Office bows down to PAC demands
- Remedial measures recommended
D2D worries prompt ESN hardware rethink
The Emergency Services Network (ESN) appears to have encountered a further problem, relating to the LTE‑enabled handsets to be used in conjunction with EE 4G network services. Samsung secured the nationwide contract to provide ruggedised handsets in 2017 (BTwatch, #291), but it has now come to light that the Home Office is considering a £40m procurement process for new hardware. It seems that a key concern relates to the viability of 3GPP standards intended to facilitate the 4G-equivalent of TETRA radio terminals communicating directly with each other (BTwatch, #296).
According to a Prior Information Notice posted by the Home Office on 14 January 2020, this device to device (D2D) capability cannot be implemented “for reasons including the immaturity of the standards and the lack of support in current devices and networks”. As a result, “an alternative solution is therefore required to meet the D2D user requirement until such time as a standards‑based [proximity services] solution can be introduced. With the exception of D2D, the principal communications features will be provided by the ESN LTE handheld device, and the interim D2D/RSM [remote speaker microphone] solution is expected to consist of a device, which will supplement the ESN device’s functionality as an integrated unit”.
Member of Parliament Meg Hillier, the former chair of the Public Accounts Committee that has been highly critical of the ESN programme, told Computer Business Review that this is a “shocking indictment of how not to run a project … we would expect to be calling back the Home Office on this issue. I’m hoping to chair the committee again. [If so,] we will make it one of our early call‑backs”.
Home Office bows down to PAC demands
The UK government’s Home Office acknowledged that it was working on a ‘plan B’ “in the event that ESN proves undeliverable or no longer provides value for money”. The government is in the process of refreshing the business case for the ESN, with a target implementation date of March 2020, and will include an alternative to the current plan to reflect the risk of spiralling costs and delays.
Recognition of the need for additional options was included in the government’s October 2019 response to a progress review by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from July 2019, which in turn was based on a somewhat damning assessment of the ESN programme in a report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in May 2019 (BTwatch, #305 and passim).
In its response, the government essentially agreed with all the PAC’s conclusions, including that an “unhealthy ‘good news’ culture in the department meant it failed to heed warning signs that the programme was undeliverable”. Furthermore, the Home Office took squarely on the chin the accusation by the PAC that it appeared to have neither the plans nor the skills to integrate the different elements of the ESN into a coherent service. The next step will be to implement measures based on a number of recommendations suggested by the PAC.
The Home Office again confirmed that the ESN is not expected to replace the current Airwave system until December 2022, and that the cost of building and running the ESN until 2037 is likely to be £9.3bn, an increase of £3.1bn compared with the initial business case proposed in 2015.
Some progress has been made in the past twelve months to ensure that the ESN, already over‑budget and overdue, is not further delayed. For instance, BT/EE and Motorola Solutions, recently signed off on extended agreements with the Home Office (BTwatch, #305, #306 and passim). However, much still remains to be done.
Remedial measures recommended
Key measures agreed to by the government based on NAO and PAC recommendations include the following:
- Delivery of a detailed, achievable, and integrated programme plan, including a realistic date for turning off Airwave and the cost of any extension of Airwave deployment. However, while agreeing to providing this plan, it appears that the Home Office was unable to meet initial expectations that it be delivered in October 2019. The government instead hoped to complete the submission of such a plan by December 2019. It also noted that December 2022 was the “earliest date at which Airwave is expected to be replaced by ESN. It is not a target date”.
- An Independent Assurance Panel has been established as part of efforts to strengthen senior oversight of the programme.
- The government will agree with future ESN users a set of specific and detailed criteria that will be used to determine when the ESN is ready to replace Airwave, and who will ultimately decide when those criteria are met. The Home Office said users and the department are currently designing these parameters and will carry out a comprehensive operational assurance exercise to demonstrate operational readiness for deployment. This will include measures to validate technical capabilities and processes, evaluate a transition to the ESN, and also feature a pilot programme to test services.
- The apparent failure of the programme’s original delivery partner, Kellogg Brown and Root, to provide planning and collaboration between the other contractors was cited as a key reason for the delay. The Home Office is now putting in place a new delivery partner contract, although it is not yet clear who the new delivery partner will be.
- The Home Office said it has taken measures to reduce potential commercial risks facing the ESN programme presented by Motorola Solutions’ position as both ESN supplier and owner of active predecessor Airwave. These include the new ESN contract agreed with Motorola in May 2019. By October 2019, Motorola had achieved 15 of 32 new milestones outlined in the new contract. The current Airwave contract expires at the end of 2022, and any notice of an extension must be issued twelve months prior to this date.