United Kingdom (UK) Home Office officials are expected to provide greater clarity next week to a Parliament committee about progress in the development of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), the much-delayed public-safety LTE network that is projected to be several billion dollars over budget.
“We are still concerned about the continuing uncertainty surrounding costs, delivery dates and user engagement, which indicates that the [ESN] program is not yet on a sound footing,” according to Hillier’s letter.
Such delays create significant budgetary issues, both for the UK government and for local first-responder agencies that are trying to determine when they should direct funds toward buying LTE equipment as opposed to investing in additional TETRA gear. “the annual cost of extending Airwave further, beyond the currently expected date of December 2022; “how many handsets will be available to the emergency services users by the end of the nine-month period of operational trials.”
“The longer Airwave is maintained, the more costs rise,” Hillier states in her letter.
“We are concerned that the program will face a major challenge in increasing usage from this level to all emergency services personnel, who will need more than 270,000 ESN connections according to the 2019 National Audit Office report,” the Hillier letter states. “The schedule for delivering increased numbers of handsets was not clear in our discussions.”
But that timeline has not been met, and other public-safety LTE systems—the FirstNet system in the U.S. and the SafeNet system in South Korea—have gained real-world usage more rapidly. However, those non-ESN systems are not specifically designed to replace LMR communications, which public-safety officials have acknowledged is very difficult challenge for an LTE system, for a variety of reasons.