Motorola Solutions buys the UK’s public safety comms network operator

Published:  04 December, 2015

The largest private operator of a public safety network in the world will be acquired for US$1.2 billion (£817.5 million).

Airwave delivers mission-critical voice and data communications to more than 300 emergency and public service agencies in the UK.

Based on Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) technology provided by Motorola Solutions, the Airwave network covers 99% of Great Britain’s landmass, is resilient and enables more than 300,000 police, fire, ambulance and other emergency personnel to easily and securely communicate with each other.

Motorola Solutions has been a communications partner to the emergency services community in the UK for over 45 years and the Airwave network operates on Motorola's TETRA technology.

There has been a degree of uncertainty around Airwave’s future ever since the Home Office embarked on the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) – a procurement to replace the TETRA network with a 4G LTE system called the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

Although Airwave was invited to bid for three lots of the four-lot programme, earlier this year it announced that it would not be taking part in the ESN procurement.

The tender for Lot 1 was awarded to Kellogg Brown and Root in September this year and negotiations with the preferred bidders for the remaining contracts – Motorola (Lot 2) and EE (Lot 3) are continuing. Although contract awards were expected in the Autumn the Home Office is yet to make an announcement.  Lot 4 has potentially no bidder at all.

The Emergency Services Network has been widely criticised for the number of risks that accompany a switch to a network whose mission-critical features have yet to be tested on a large scale. In addition, the standards for mission-critical, voice-over LTE have yet to be agreed or specified, and are unlikely to be clarified for a number of years.

The ability of LTE networks to provide the coverage required across the UK in the timeframe specified by the Home Office has also been questioned by industry insiders.

As a result of concerns such as these the UK's fire and rescue service announced in May 2015 that it would extend its Firelink contract with Airwave until 2020.

The Firelink network, which went fully live in 2010 and covers all 57 fire and rescue services in the UK, was designed to enable the fire and rescue services to work more effectively and safely by using clearer voice communications and call group management during incidents, and to send data and status codes to and from vehicles in the field.

For a number of years Airwave has been diversifying its offering towards 4G services, and its Pronto application suite of digital processes is today used by 15 police forces.

In addition, there have been reports of Airwave and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working together to repurpose Airwave's infrastructure for rural broadband.

Commenting on the acquisition, Richard Bobbett, chief executive officer of Airwave, said: ‘Airwave has proven expertise in delivering mission-critical voice and data communications services, and over the past 15 years we’ve invested significantly in the development of a secure, resilient and interoperable network.

‘We are delighted that through this new relationship with global leader Motorola Solutions, we are able to enhance our offering and ensure our customers continue to benefit from the high-quality service they have come to expect.’

Motorola Solutions expects its net cash payment to be approximately US$1 billion and a deferred cash payment of the remainder will be made in November 2018.

The agreement is expected to close in the first quarter of 2016.

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