ESN update: core specifications now with device vendors
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:
L-R: Jeremy Kemp, technical lead – related projects at the Home Office; Simon McCutcheon, head of service governance, Motorola Solutions; James Alevizos, director of quality at EE

Jeremy Kemp, technical lead – related projects at the Home Office, said that last week the suite of core specifications from EE and Motorola Solutions were made available for the first time, “which will allow device vendors to start looking very seriously at their development and getting devices ready for the accreditation process [NATS].” Kemp made his comments during a session on the Emergency Services Network (ESN) at the Emergency Services Show on Wednesday (21 September).

He added that that Motorola Solutions’ sandbox environment for control room vendors is live and four vendors are attached to it. One of the vendors has already demonstrated end-to-end group calls between their control room systems and the sandbox PTT service and back again. Kemp said that Motorola Solutions launched the first phase of their network approval testing for control rooms, using the first release of their software.

Kemp said that there has also been a lot of progress in terms of interworking between the Airwave TETRA network and ESN. This will happen as a central gateway solution between the two networks (also to be provided by ESN) and that “fairly significant upgrades to the Airwave network need to be required for that interworking solution to happen”. He added that the equipment has been shipped to all the relevant sites and is currently going through SAT (site acceptance testing) and it is on-target for cut-over in January.

The final aspect of control rooms is the network connectivity between Motorola’s data centres and the control rooms, to be provided by a direct network service provider or DNSP, who is effectively providing PSN (Public Service Network) services. “We’ve been out on procurement for most of this year for a DNSP and we’ve now reached the stage of contract finalisation. We’re hoping to sign that contract before the end of the month. Once that’s signed we’ll be coming straight out to the user organisations to start gathering the information for the order forms for those circuits, things like levels of capacity and resilience.”

He said that ESMCP (Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme) and EE have developed a common radio plan that sets out where EE’s network coverage ends and where that from Extended Area Services (EAS) begins. That coverage is currently being reviewed by users. The sites will be a mix of new ones, and site-shares, with the latter to be used as much as possible.

Kemp added that “there’s been a fairly big procurement campaign this year related to the EAS, we’ve been out to procure ADB (apply, design and build) services, along with specialist engineering services... That procurement campaign is rapidly coming to a conclusion. We’re looking to award some of those contracts imminently, we’ve completed an evaluation and by the end of the month we’re hoping to make some announcements. Then we can get out and really start moving in terms of securing sites, planning consent and signing heads of terms with landlords and so forth”

Turning to ESN coverage on the Underground, Kemp said that ESMCP is planning to do a trial on the Waterloo and City line “very shortly”. “A lot of the prep work has been done on that, so the connectivity to the leaky feeders, the transmission connectivity to take the data links back to EE’s network are in place… it just requires the last step of fitting the active RF equipment. The trial will test to see if call continuity can be achieved when walking from Waterloo station down into the underground and back out again. “That’s coming up very shortly and will be a major milestone in terms of our work with TfL”.

Simon McCutcheon, head of service governance at Motorola Solutions, noted that the company’s NATS (Network Approval Testing Service), has to allow vendors to bring products to the market quickly. NATS is a self-funding, self-managing service that can increase or decrease its resources to fit the demand for its services. All ESN devices will need to be ESN approved and meet the requirements of the User Device Type Approval Specification (UDTAS) and have NATS certification, according to a recent prior information notice (PIN).

The NATS process has to allow vendors to bring products to the market quickly. NATS is a self-funding, self-managing service, which can increase or decrease its resources to fit the demand for its services.

McCutcheon noted that NATS is the first of the services to be provided by Motorola Solutions to go live. The NATS portal for control rooms is ready and the end user community and the control room vendor community can register to have their equipment tested. He said that for vendors to put their device, application or control room equipment forward for NATS certification, they need a sponsor from an end-user organisation or the Home Office.

James Alevizos, director of quality at EE, said that his company has increased its 4G geographical coverage by five per cent in the last quarter, taking it to over 70 per cent, up from “just short of 50 per cent” back when the contract for EE to deliver mobile services in December 2015. EE together with EAS are required to provide 96.16 per cent as part of its commercial arrangement with the Home Office.

Kemp said that ESN devices “will in no sense be bespoke for the UK market.” “Our solution is Release 12 hardware minimum and then all the rest of the public safety functionality is provided by Motorola Solutions’ application and their server. Over time when we come toward the end of the first generation of ESN contracts, the availability of the stuff that Motorola builds for us will have in all likelihood have migrated into standards, into things like IMS platforms, into the device, there would still be a role for over-the-top applications as well. We’re are part of a roadmap towards standardisation for public safety technology. It’s at a relatively early stage, but we have a clear roadmap for migrating. One of Motorola Solutions’ deliverables to us is a roadmap for standards to make sure that we don’t somehow get stranded down some proprietary side-road.”

Kemp said that that there hasn’t been any slippage in the timetable for ESN and that the Airwave network contractual shut-down date is still the end of 2019 as previously announced by Gordon Shipley at Critical Communications World in Amsterdam back in June.

Kemp was also quizzed on the status of Release 12 devices. “Around the end of 1Q this year, the major chipset vendors started to ship Release 12 capable chipsets or upgrades from their existing chipsets to get to Release 12. Those are now starting to find their way into early models with some of the major vendors. So far we have two vendors who have a Release 12 device that’s about to start coming off the production lines and we’re expecting more and more to start becoming available as the months go on…”

“At the moment we’re thinking that we’re in a reasonable position with the handheld devices. It gets slightly trickier with the more niche devices, like vehicle equipment and those are areas where we’re in quite a lot of deep discussions with vendors about their roadmaps and availability of product from them. It may be necessary for us to do more to push key vendors to make sure their product are available in time.”

Kemp was asked about the ESMCP’s response to the National Audit Office’s report on the risks associated with ESN.

“Those of you have been working with ESN as a programme for the past two to three years, there was probably nothing in that report that would surprise you,” he replied. “Yes, by the nature of what we’re doing it is inherently high risk, there will be a lot of technical risks associated with it and we spend an awful lot of time worrying how to manage those risks.

“They weren’t telling us anything about either the level of risk or the specific risks that we didn’t know already and weren’t trying to manage. There is the very important backstop in that we have to convince about 100 chief officers that this system is okay to go live on. The Home Office can’t just foist this system onto the emergency services and force them to accept it no matter what state it’s in. We have to work with them and convince them that it’s the right thing to do…”

An industry source close to the matter expects that Motorola Solutions will be the first to market with an ESN compliant device. They also said that there is a £25,000 fee for NATS testing. The source said that they believe there will be a single type of vehicle device, which won’t be a standard vehicle router due to the need to run Android on it, as this enables the device to run Motorola Solutions’ AirWatch app, which will handle management of the device on the ESN network. The source added that the first vehicle design specification has been released to the vendors involved in the ESN programme via the Bravo Portal under an NDA.

The source had told Land Mobile back in June that: "There’s a fair amount of custom design required to make an ESN device compliant – they won’t be off-the-shelf. This is because certain mission-critical applications will have to be embedded in the device to ensure that they can’t be deleted by the user. ESN devices will have to be custom engineered.”

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that EE is required to provide 96.16 per cent geographical coverage – this requirement is to be met by the combination of EE's network and EAS.

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