The UK’s Home Office is inviting telecommunications infrastructure providers to come up with ideas to provide additional 4G infrastructure in specific target areas of the UK for its proposed £1.2bn Emergency Services Network currently out to tender.
The Home Office’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) has begun a public consultation, starting 1 September and ending 29 September 2015, asking the communications industry to suggest how additional 4G infrastructure could be provided beyond the ESN Lot 3 main area network, for which EE is now the only remaining bidder.
The consultation document, Public consultation on additional telecommunications coverage to be provided for the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – which can be found here – states:
‘ESMCP is looking to provide additional coverage in a variety of way, with the provision of large traditional mobile (macro) sites or to fill smaller areas through the use of smaller (micro or pico) sites which may even be fitted to street furniture or buildings.
‘We will be delivering infrastructure in one of two ways: through the Mobile Services Supplier, who will build additional (ESN Specific Sites) as part of their network provision; or, in other areas, the Government will either build or acquire additional infrastructure’ (our italics).
The Home Office says it is keen to hear from those who have ‘specific telecommunications infrastructure or have plans to build such infrastructure’.
The move follow the publication of a PIN (Prior Information Notice) in the Official Journal of the European Union on 13 August, which raised the possibility of resurrecting the original Lot 4 of ESN, which involved providing 4G coverage extension services beyond the main Lot 3 network, generally in remote or difficult areas of the UK.
The Home Office cancelled Lot 4 in February claiming that the Lot 3 bidders would fulfil this need. That no longer appears to be the case. Negotiations are still underway for Lot 2 ESN User Services, for which Motorola Solutions is the only provider left in the bidding following HP’s decision to pull out in August, and for Lot 3 ESN Mobile Services, where EE is the only remaining bidder after Telefonica O2 withdrew in June.
The publication of the PIN and this public consultation would seem to indicate that the Government recognises that the Lot 3 winner may not provide full national coverage after all – the original Lot 3 brief did not require it to so.
The statement that the ‘Government will either build or acquire additional infrastructure’ indicates that the Home Office realises commercial providers are unlikely to want to build 4G infrastructure in remote parts of the UK (and potentially along some of the road system) as they are highly unlikely to make it pay. Only Arqiva was willing to submit a bid for the original Lot 4 after the other four shortlisted companies declined to bid.
Another interesting aspect of the consultation document is revealed in the following paragraph: ‘An additional purpose for this consultation is to meet the requirements of the European Commission’s Broadband Guidelines. These are EU Guidelines as to how governments should apply the EC’s State Aid rules in relation to the deployment of broadband networks.’
Wireless flagged up the issue of State Aid in an article last year. By turning to a commercial mobile operator for ESN, the Government runs the risk of being accused of paying one operator to improve its network to something far in advance of anything its rivals could economically invest in on their own.
As far as ESN is concerned the original Government tender documents stated that it considered this would be ‘allowable aid as a Service of General Economic Interest (SGEI) for the provision of critical communications services benefitting the UK as a whole’. This remains to be seen, but clearly the Government is looking to cover itself on this issue again.
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