Bryan Clark, Programme Director, Emergency Services Network

Building a new critical communications network that keeps you safe — Bryan Clark

Programme Director
Emergency Services Network

This year is set to be incredibly important in the creation of Britain’s new Emergency Services Network. Throughout the year, developments that we have been working hard on behind the scene will begin to come to fruition.

The already extensive coverage provided by EE is being expanded further, bringing mobile broadband services to rural and remote areas. At the same time, the new Public Safety Communications Services (PSCS) technologies that are core to ESN will come together to form prototype products. In short, 2019 is the year that the exciting capabilities that ESN promises will be put into our users’ hands for the first time.

Last July, the programme, in conjunction with our senior user team, took the decision to change the underlying software system that delivers ESN. In conjunction with our partner Motorola Solutions, we moved from the Wave 7000 PSCS product to a new, standards-based software product called Kodiak. The advantages of moving to an internationally recognised public safety standards compliant product were obvious, but it was a significant step.

It’s pleasing to report that the concerns at the time have proved unfounded and progress since the change has been very good. In the few short months since the move to Kodiak, all the ESN components have been re-centred around the Kodiak software product and every aspect of the programme re-planned. A live ESN solution will be on show at the 2019 BAPCO Annual Conference and a working prototype product ‘Direct 1’ will be in users’ hands by the summer, with a second iteration, ‘Direct 2’, soon after.

The number one priority for ESN remains mission critical voice communications that will keep our emergency services and the public safe. We are working closely with the emergency services to use and evaluate the new technologies which will achieve this. The prototype products will bring Public Safety Push To Talk (PTT) and messaging for less-critical scenarios. They also offer the chance to test out control room integration to ESN, smoothing the path to later upgrades and wider deployments.

The voice service needs to be reliable, robust, and secure and work everywhere, all the time. The network needs to work 24/7, in all weathers and environments, and make sure emergency services communications to get through first time, no matter what. ESN also needs to be robust enough to keep working if the power network goes down; when other infrastructure fails; when natural disasters strike; and if it is attacked. Personal equipment will be available in robust form, to survive harsh operating conditions for those who need it, but also in standard commercial form for where it isn’t. From the depths of underground tunnels in dense urban environments, to mountainous terrain, 10,000 feet in the air and up to 12 miles out to sea, ESN has to keep working.

Although mission critical voice communication is the priority, the emergency services are now operating in a connected world. So We are building them a communications network that will allow them to make full use of high speed mobile data, and will also work everywhere, and every time. Achieving this means developing prioritised data technology, alongside relatively routine construction in difficult locations. The new network will keep emergency services personnel safe and allow them to do more than ever before.

EE has already extended its network to support ESN, which means it now covers more than 90 per cent of Britain — and we’re still building. We are adding additional coverage in the most remote and rural coverage locations. As we do, wherever possible, we are supporting wider Government policy for delivering fast commercial 4G services to remote and rural communities across Wales, Scotland and England, by providing commercial mobile services as well as just the ESN carrier. This work is already changing lives and supporting communities, which in turn is helping local business to flourish. In the Scottish Islands, from Shetland all the way down to Arran, we are delivering 196 mobile mast sites. The network we are building in the Islands and the rest of Britain is available for commercial operators to use and they are planning to use over 90 per cent of the masts we have under development to date.

Delivering ESN is challenging, but we are making real progress. Some projects that many people thought impossible are now making promising progress. We are working with five different suppliers on our ESN Air to Ground solution and we are engaged with the whole supplier community on control rooms as well. We continue to develop our relationship with all our suppliers, sponsors and customers, seeking as much as possible to work as one team. That helps everyone understand the choices we make.

The Emergency Services Network represents the next generation of public safety critical communications, but first and foremost it is about making sure our Police, Ambulance and Fire and Rescue Services can work safely, collaboratively, and innovatively. Our absolute priority is critical and safe voice communications. We know why we are building ESN, and what we need to deliver. We have a credible plan that sets out the way ahead and we are looking forward to 2019.