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ESN transition process put under the spotlight at British APCO 2016

Delegates from industry and the emergency services at the recent British APCO 2016 event were given an update on where planning for the transition to the new 4G Emergency Services Network from the Airwave TETRA network has reached. James Atkinson reports

ESN transition process put under the spotlight at British APCO 2016

The Home Office and the three main contract providers updated delegates on the transition issues affecting the new £1bn Emergency Services Network (ESN) at the British APCO 2016 Conference & Exhibition in Telford last week (22-23 March).

The Emergency Services Network programme has a 21 month mobilisation period during which the Lot 2 User Services provider Motorola Solutions and the Lot 3 Mobile Services (main area network) provider EE will design, build, test and assure the new service with help from the Lot 1 project manager Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR).

The transition period is expected to then take 27 months to convert end users to ESN. This will be carried out in stages with 12 Regional Transition Groups and one National Transition Group. Richard Hewlett, Deputy Programme Director, Home Office insisted that transition will not begin until all the performance criteria for ESN are met.

The programme covers 44 police forces, 50 Fire & Rescue Services, 13 ambulance trusts and a number of other smaller users accounting for approximately 300,000 users in total. In addition, 230 control rooms have to be upgraded to ESN, some 50,000 vehicles have to have new radios fitted, as do 115 aircraft.

Some 13 other major contracts also have to be integrated into the process including an Air-to-Ground (A2G) solution, the Extended Area Services programme (additional radios sites in more remote areas of the UK not covered by EE’s Lot 3 contract) plus device and applications procurement. Coverage in the London Underground and the new Crossrail project also has to be implemented.

Hewlett said that the three main Lot providers and the procuring authority have signed an Operating Level Agreement (OLA) to guarantee co-operation. Hewlett added: ‘I am very impressed by KBR, Motorola and EE’s collaborative approach so far. I feel we have made a very positive start with good momentum and we are maintaining that momentum. It is the best start I could have hoped for.’ He asserted that the programme is on track to date.

Those directly involved with ESN probably didn’t hear much that they didn’t already know, but Rees Ward, Delivery Partner Programme Director at KBR (which is working with Arup for ICT and Mason Advisory for technical assurance) provided an update on where things stand so far.

‘Transition is the real big issue here. How do we get to ESN without a single diminution in service? Interruption of operations will not happen in any circumstances, but crises come at awkward times and transition needs to understand that,’ said Ward.

Plan well, plan early
He added a stark warning: ‘Transition is not going to run smoothly – anyone who thinks otherwise is not on this planet. If it goes perfectly I will be hugely surprised. The message is: plan well and plan early. We can deal with problems if they occur early in the process, but if you leave it and it bloats out of proportion it will cost us all.’

He emphasised that it is the emergency services that will determine transition. ‘Our job is to help you do it in the most efficient and effective way. We will not say we want to train these 300 people in batches of 50 on this day, or that these vehicles will come off the road on this day for radio installation – that will not happen.’

He explained that the KBR project manager team was not fully formed yet and that KBR has not had the time to get out on the ground to talk to end user organisations. ’I need to get my team ready, talk to your people, work through the details, and only then will we determine the plan.’

KBR’s role includes: implementation planning; PMO support (governance, reporting, change, risk, scheduling); technical assurance oversight; and transition planning and management, including RVIDS and training. During the mobilisation period, KBR’s team will be looking after: readiness assessment; tracking and reporting; assurance of training; and assurance of vehicle installations.

‘The art will be to make sure we find the surprises and fix them before transition. The only way we can do that is in joint collaborative arrangements,’ said Ward. ‘At the end of the period we need to see if we have we got all the bits and pieces we need, so that when you cross the transition start line you are ready.’

Trainers will be a major issue and one of KBR’s roles is to ensure the trainers are trained – current estimates suggest some 2,500 trainers will be required and KBR needs to ensure they are in the right place at right time. Control room staff will also need to be trained.

Ward said that the timing of the training will be crucial. ‘Do not train three months before or people will have forgotten it all. Training has almost got to be simultaneous with devices being issued. Don’t try and talk and chalk it, and don’t try and train them in a huge amount of operational functionality, just the key things they need for their role. Then you have a fighting chance to do what is needed. But yes, training will be difficult,’ admitted Ward.

KBR will also be on hand to help define what transition readiness looks like in each region and organisation. ‘We need to assess how we know we’re there and how assessment will work in practice. We also need to provide transition reporting to know if we’re on track,’ said Ward.

He added that there are too many organisations for KBR to work with each one. Instead it will concentrate its efforts at the Regional Group level (i.e. the 13 groups). ‘That doesn’t mean we won’t go below that, but at a planning level this is where we will interact.’

KBR will have one Group Transition Manager per Regional Group, while the Regional Implementation Managers will be there to assist organisations.

Addressing how transition will work, Ward said: ‘The Group Transition Manager and Regional Implementation Manager level is where the collaboration, compromises and resolution of issues and problem solving will happen. This to me is the heart of the transition process: and we have one aim – to get user organisations from Airwave to ESN.’

Lot 2 User Services
John Muench, programme director for ESN with Motorola Solutions, explained that the Lot 2 User Services provider role was about connecting EE’s network to the user control rooms and devices at the end points. ‘We leverage a 4G service and provide a priority service through our core software to deliver PTT over LTE, emergency calls, priority, data prioritisation and we ensure there is a roadmap to the 4G mission critical standards being written by the 3GPP standards body.’

Muench said the service access would deliver high reliability, resilience, high capacity, and performance and insisted that end users would have a ‘multiple device choice’. Motorola is partnering with QinetiQ on the applications testing and assurance part of the job and with Ericsson at its service operations centre, which will provide a 24/7 helpdesk and self-help service.

Speaking to end users at the British APCO event it was clear that many feel they have progressed as far as they can and now they are awaiting further information, particularly the revised device specifications due out in May and things like control room interfaces.

Until they get these, there seems to be little more they can do (at least the organisation due to transition in the early phases) in terms of preparing training and organising vehicle fit outs.

Initial User Device Detailed Specifications (UDDS) are available, which provide some information on: handheld devices (ruggedised and standard commercial off the shelf); remote speaker units; tablets; vehicle mounted devices; gateways; and managed services

There has been some disquiet among suppliers at Motorola’s role as the device and applications certifier when it is also one of the largest device manufactures around. Addressing the issue, the Home Office’s Richard Hewlett said: ‘We want a diverse and robust ecosystem around devices. One of the things we discussed with Motorola is to make sure there is a level playing field and that is critical.’

However, Wireless understands the cost of certification is around £25,000 per device and while that may be a digestible sum for the larger players, privately some smaller device manufacturers suggested to Wireless that the cost may be prohibitive for them. If so, that will inevitably restrict the breadth of the device ecosystem available to end users.

Both Hewlett and Muench pointed out that Motorola’s acquisition of Airwave has helped to de-risk the transition as it ensures Airwave will be there throughout the transition to provide a level of confidence, and a there is simple way to plug Airwave into EE’s 4G network to enable interoperability between those still using TETRA two-way radios and those who have transitioned to 4G cellular devices.

Muench said: ‘We will do a lot of testing and the planning for that is going on right now and will progress as we integrate control rooms, devices and applications testing, so we can support trials into next year.’

See also: EE outlines its coverage, resilience and availability solutions for ESN

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