Emergency Network Delayed By Agile Development Methods, MPs Told

The Home Office is planning to continue developing and testing the features of the next-generation Emergency Services Network (ESN), intended for use by emergency responders, while continuing to operate the current Airwave system, Parliament has been told.

The ESN has been delayed twice, and while its current completion date is officially set at the end of next year, the Home Office has said it can no longer predict what the actual timetable will be.

The cost of a year’s delay in switching off Airwave has been estimated at £475 million.

Permanent secretary Philip Rutnam told MPs the Home Office wants to “roll out features of the new system while we continue to operate Airwave for longer”.

Agile approach

He said the ESN is being developed under the “philosophy of agile delivery”, an approach that “takes longer” and inherently “costs a bit more”, but is delivering the ESN’s requirements “in a way that has less risk”.

While Airwave uses a dedicated TETRA network, the ESN is to use EE’s 4G network.

Rutnam said the extensions to EE’s network to cover the areas needed by the ESN were progressing as scheduled. He said software development and infrastructure to operate the network in the London Underground were also progressing.

But the programme remains “very challenging”, he admitted.

Rutnam’s comments, which were reported by tech news website The Register, follow the Home Office’s disclosure earlier this month that the ESN’s programme director, Gordon Shipley, is to leave the programme at the end of March.

Shipley’s departure follows intense criticism of the delayed project by MPs. Their concerns include the fact that it requires technologies that haven’t been used for emergency services anywhere else in the world, meaning they must be developed and tested from scratch.

‘New and longer delivery phase’

The delays forced the Home Office to agree a deal with Airwave and Vodafone to carry on using the existing system for a longer period.

At the time, the Home Office said Shipley’s departure came as the network entered “a new and longer delivery phase”.

“A new director will be appointed to lead the programme through the next phase,” the Home Office said.

Last week ESN officials carried out a live demonstration of the ESN’s technologies, placing a call over an ESN handset provided by Samsung, using EE’s network and software developed by Airwave parent Motorola Solutions.

During the demonstration at the Bapco 2018 expo calls were placed between the conference’s venue in Coventry and an EE facility in Bristol.

The software used includes many of the network’s core features.

Motorola Solutions said at the time the first ESN devices had been received from Samsung only two weeks earlier, according to Tetra Today.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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