The UK government is apparently considering shelving work to deploy a new 4G-powered Emergency Services Network (ESN), as the project – co-managed by operator EE – faces more delays.

The Register, citing sources, said the existing Motorola-owned Airwave system, which currently provides communications for the country’s police, fire and ambulance services, may need to be in operation for another five to 10 years before ESN is fully ready.

This would incur an estimated cost of between £360 million and £475 million per year.

This delay is a sizable increase from that reported by the UK’s Sunday Telegraph last October, which said ESN was facing a delay of up to a year into 2019. This pushed back an initial target to connect the first users to the network from June 2018.

The Register reported that the government is now considering shelving the network altogether or scaling back the ambitious programme. It is currently in the process of resetting the scheme, with plans to publish an official review in July 2018.

Two options
There are two options on table, according to an update to the programme seen by the publication.

The government could opt for an incremental rollout of ESN, which would involve a data only option. In effect, this would mean the country’s emergency services would retain the existing Airwave solution for voice and use the new ESN for 4G data only. There would be a contractual agreement put in place to keep the Airwave network live as necessary.

The second would be a shutdown of the new network programme until an unspecified future date.

Mobile World Live has contacted EE regarding the latest reported setback and is awaiting a response.

ESN problems
The planned £1.2 billion network is intended to replace Motorola’s existing Airwave radio service.

Operator EE is set to co-manage the network after winning a tender from the UK Home Office in 2015, along with Motorola and consultancy KBR.

However, since the award was announced, the project has come under fire following numerous concerns that the rollout could be delayed, as well as fears that such critical infrastructure could be subject to technology failures.

However, this is the first time that there have been suggestions the project could be canned altogether.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that it keeps the delivery of ESN and the continued use of Airwave “under constant review”.

“We have not made any decisions about extending relevant contracts. We will have a clearer picture of deliver timescales once the ongoing review of the programme is complete,” she added.

EE rival Vodafone also criticised the handling of the project last year.