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About the Emergency Services Network
The Home Office is leading a cross-government programme to deliver the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) critical communications system. This will replace the current Airwave service used by the emergency services in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and transform how they operate.
ESN will transmit fast, safe and secure voice, video and data across the 4G network and give first responders immediate access to life-saving data, images and information in live situations and emergencies on the frontline. Investment in ESN will also mean improvements to 4G network coverage, which will enable 999 calls to be made securely from mobile phones in some of the most remote and rural parts of Great Britain.
The technology that supports Airwave, the network currently used by our emergency services, is reaching the end of its lifetime. While reliable and fit for purpose for the immediate future, its limited capability means it cannot match the opportunities offered by new mobile critical communications technology.
ESN’s high-speed mobile technology will mean communication between the emergency services will take priority over all other network traffic, even at peak times in busy urban locations. It will mean the emergency services and other first responders can share vital data, information and expertise quickly and securely from the frontline when it is needed most.
It will give the emergency services access to the latest mobile communications products and applications as soon as they come on stream. They will be able to choose what meets their unique operational requirements from the tools and technologies available.
Users for ESN include the police, fire and rescue and ambulance services as well as other users stretching from local authorities and utility services to first responders like inshore rescue. There are 300,000 frontline emergency service users who will depend on ESN, using handheld devices or operating equipment in 45,000 vehicles, 66 aircraft and more than 100 control rooms.
ESN will deliver:
- secure and resilient mission critical communications the emergency services can trust to keep them safe
- a modern voice and data platform which will enable the emergency services to improve front-line operations
- a common platform to enable emergency services to work more closely together for data sharing in emergencies
The software that ESN runs on is being provided by Motorola Solutions and the infrastructure is being built by EE; created by upgrading its existing network, including deploying more 4G masts in rural areas, and building new sites.
To maximise coverage for the emergency services the government will build about 300 further masts in the most remote and rural areas of Great Britain and, potentially, these will also bring much needed commercial coverage to these areas.
How ESN will be delivered
ESN is being delivered by the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP) in the Home Office. ESN will be the future platform for communications in the emergency services and delivering this world-leading network has presented some challenges.
To meet these challenges, the programme is focused on delivering ESN in an incremental way by working collaboratively with those who will use it. The focus is on getting the products, coverage and services that emergency services need so they can be tested, adopted and used as they become available, rather than having to wait until every element of the network is finished. This will allow for continuous improvement to meet the evolving needs of emergency service users.
The approach will help to build secure and resilient mission-critical communications the emergency services can trust to keep them safe. It will also support the swift and safe deployment of ESN to allow Airwave to be switched off as soon as is safely possible.
Providing sufficient coverage is essential to allow users to migrate safely from its current Airwave system onto ESN. The various coverage areas will be delivered by multiple suppliers and contracts but will ultimately be assured by a common, service-wide testing and assurance process.
The programme will deliver and assure the coverage that will enable emergency services users to continue to operate effectively, efficiently and safely when Airwave is turned off.
ESN coverage will be delivered in key areas of:
- Great Britain primary area coverage
- major and minor roads, selected buildings, select road tunnels and public facilities, as well as 12 miles out to sea and up to 500 feet above the ground
- extended area service (EAS): major and minor roads that fall outside of those in the primary coverage area. These are rural areas including many national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty
- London Underground
- air coverage above 500 feet up to 10,000 feet
In total, more than 950 new masts are being constructed and about 19,000 sites are being upgraded to facilitate the coverage needed for ESN across Great Britain.
ESN utilises the EE network and as such also gains benefits of its commercial improvement programmes to existing commercial 4G networks. Voice and data traffic for ESN will get priority over all other commercial mobile traffic.
Extended area service
The extended area service (EAS) is a critical part of ESN. It will ensure there is ESN coverage in the most rural and remote parts of Great Britain.
The network infrastructure is created by upgrading EE’s existing network, including deploying more 4G radio frequencies in rural areas. To maximise coverage for the emergency services the government is building or refurbishing about 300 mobile masts in the most remote and rural parts of Great Britain to provide ESN coverage for the emergency services.
Improving mobile coverage is also a priority for government to close the digital divide and ensure consumers and businesses can take advantage of the social and economic benefits of digital connectivity. Wherever possible, the design of mast structures will be future-proofed so they can easily be upgraded.
The EAS masts built for ESN will also be available for other mobile operators to offer commercial mobile coverage, under the government’s Shared Rural Network programme run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Coverage assurance provides emergency services users the ability to test and assess coverage independently, so they can confirm EE is meeting its contractual obligations and evaluate operationally unique requirements. It provides a common approach for checking coverage required from other ESN projects, for example the extended area service and ESN in the London Underground.
EE remain responsible for making sure there is network coverage in the ‘primary area’ and will do this by using various measuring techniques. ESMCP also has a coverage testing capability called Assure, which helps the emergency services to measure and report on ESN coverage in their area and report on where it needs to be improved.
ESN Assure consists of a package of tools on a handheld ESN device including an app which monitors coverage while on the move as well as offering a view of what areas are predicted to be covered.
The emergency services and ESMCP are carrying out extensive coverage testing together. This will give early sight of any issues and allow both early entry into the gap fix process and build user confidence in coverage availability and performance.
ESN Connect is a SIM-only offer to connect vehicle modems with the ESN data service. It provides a fast, secure 4G data connection on the dedicated ESN network that is designed for emergency services use.
Customers will benefit from data prioritisation, which means the device will perform consistently when using data, even in times of high traffic and network congestion. It will also be possible to specify a higher level of prioritisation via the critical data bearer function if required.
In its simplest form, this is the ESN equivalent of a SIM-only data plan. It is for any emergency services organisation that needs a fast, reliable data connection – for example, in-vehicle dispatch messaging used by the ambulance service. ESN Connect does not need the public safety communication service application to operate.
ESN Direct is a new generation push-to-talk and critical messaging product on a smartphone.
It offers earlier access to the ESN public safety application suite, to gain insights into performance and usability, ready to create training and roll-out programmes for wider deployments. It can be utilised by the emergency services and other users who want to try out ESN public safety communications in less-critical scenarios and/or while dual-carrying an Airwave and ESN device.
ESN Beta and ESN Version 1.0
ESN Beta is the forerunner to ESN Version 1.0. ESN Version 1.0 will deliver all the public safety features and functionality required by the emergency services and first responder community to start mass transition to ESN from Airwave.
First Beta, and then ESN Version 1.0, will introduce further enhancements to the ESN public safety application, building on the Direct products (see above). Mission critical push-to-talk, messaging and video are included in the ESN application, which will run on a specially-optimised, rugged handset or a fixed vehicle device. Other devices (including a non-rugged alternative) will also be available for the start of mass transition.
Users of Beta and then Version 1.0 will be able to interwork with Airwave users. Control room system integration options will also be available. A suite of self-service applications are offered to nominated user organisation administration personnel, allowing them to manage devices remotely, order, set up and manage SIMs, implement public safety profiles and talk groups, as well as report on and get help with the service.