O2 in chase for £7 billion emergency services contract

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Operator states its intention to bid for the contract that would see it provide GSM services for 10-years from 2016, with official tender process expected to begin in the summer   

O2 has begun discussions with the UK government over a £7 billion deal to provide a dedicated voice and data network for the emergency services (police, fire brigade and ambulance).

According to O2 UK chief executive Ronan Dunne (pictured), the current 10-year deal, managed by Airwave, is due to expire in 2016, with an official tender process to begin this summer. O2’s bid is expected to be headed by O2 head of public services Billy D’Arcy.

Dunne claims the government wants to utilise modern mobile technology by providing police officers with access to data services (such as 3G and 4G).

Airwave, which was previously owned by Telefonica before being sold to the Macquarie Group for £1.9 billion in 2007, uses Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) technology – similar to that of a walkie talkie with limited data capabilities.

Around 300,000 people in the UK use the network and it has 99 per cent land coverage.

Dunne said: “The government is looking to replace the current network being used with GSM standard and have 3G and 4G connected access, which Tetra doesn’t serve as well.

“There is a consultation out there and an active process of dialogue now. There will be five or six blocks of procurement, which we expect ourselves and our competitors to be part of.

“The contract is worth between £600 million to £700 million per year when you bundle all the different lots together.”

Dunne said the introduction of data and new services will help revolutionise the way in which the emergency services operates – comparing it to someone using a 10-year-old mobile phone, and being handed the most modern smartphone.

New data services which could be implemented (and being trialled), include officers being “armed” with shoulder cameras that feed back live footage to the police computer, which will use intelligence to automatically identify missing persons, suspects or known trouble makers.

Officers will also be able to receive instant results when checking names and car registrations rather than vocally feeding back to the office.

Business opportunity

“This is night and day change,” said Dunne. “It’s a transformation of the service the emergency services can offer as they will be connected with all the capability back at the Police National Computer. It’s like taking a Nokia 2110 from 10 years ago and handing them the latest Galaxy S5. It’s a great business opportunity, and I’m sure all operators will be bidding for the business.”

EE and Vodafone, who Dunne expects to play a part in the consultation and tender process, declined to comment as Mobile News went to press.

Serious issues

In an interview with independent policing website PoliceOracle.com last year, which is used by members of every UK police force, the Police Federation criticised the current Airwave system for its poor network coverage, particularly indoors, and the length of time it takes to make repairs.

A federation spokesperson said: “There are good and bad points to Airwave. There are serious issues with coverage, especially when officers go into buildings because their signal just drops. In very rural areas there are problems for officers who are too far away from masts.

“There are also problems with helicopters using digital radio because the original plans from Airwave never accounted for it being used in that way.”

O2 and Vodafone aim to have 98 per cent indoor 4G coverage by the end of 2015. EE expects to have 98 per cent population coverage by the end of this year.

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