Network that supplies UK emergency services to be investigated over competition concerns

Two police officers wearing fluorescent jackets standing with their back to the camera
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has opened an investigation into Motorola Solutions' stake in the secure communications network used by the UK's emergency services.

A consultation process, first started in July 2021, had previously raised concerns about Motorola's position as sole provider of equipment for the UK's emergency services communication network.

Motorola currently provides a mobile radio network that connects emergency services across the UK, dubbed Airwave, but it is also a key supplier in the rollout of the new 4G-enabled Emergency Services Network (ESN), which aims to replace Airwave.

Evidence provided as part of the consultation revealed concern that the service offered by Motorola may not be the most cost-effective one, and that it may lead to a poorer quality service for customers and the taxpayer.

The Home Office claims it is being provided with insufficient information regarding project and network maintenance costs, which may be impeding its ability to effectively negotiate pricing for Motorola's Airwave network. It claims it is in a "weak bargaining position" and is "unable to to secure value for money".

The CMA will also investigate Motorola's dual role in the project and its perceived incentive to delay or shape the roll-out of the ESN to its advantage.

"As the sole provider of critical mobile radio network services used by our emergency services, we're concerned that Motorola could be cashing in on its position, leaving taxpayers to cover the cost," said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

"We're now referring this market for a full investigation so that we can thoroughly examine these concerns and, if necessary, take action to address any problems."

The CMA will now assemble an independent group to investigate the mobile radio network sector and decide if there are problems that need to be addressed.

"We strongly believe that a market investigation is not warranted," a Motorola Solutions spokesperson told IT Pro, who also stated that the company has been financially transparent throughout the project with the Home Office and rejects the assertion that Motorola Solutions has an incentive to delay the ESN.

They also said that the Airwave service delivers "exceptional value for money for the UK taxpayer" and that Motorola provided price reductions for the Home Office "while making significant investments to maintain the network".

"This is a contractual matter between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions and this investigation threatens the principles of long-term government contracting in the UK," they added.

"We look forward to working with the CMA independent group to demonstrate that Motorola Solutions continues to provide exceptional value for the UK emergency services."

The Home Office has previously come under fire from the National Audit Office (NAO) for missing the deadlines to deliver the 4G ESN.

The NAO claimed that the Home Office failed to understand the challenges faced by the emergency services, citing general mismanagement and spiralling costs as reasons for additional criticism.

Motorola's Airwave network entails the infrastructure and services that enable UK emergency services such as police, fire and emergency services to communicate securely when first responders are working in the field.

Airwave was first commissioned by the Home Office in 2000, with the agreement planned to end in December 2019. At this point, the network was expected to be shuttered and replaced by ESN - a commercial 4G network.

Motorola's dual role was secured in February 2016 after it secured a government contract to provide software for ESN. The CMA cleared this merger, in part, it says, due to the expectation that Airwave would shut down by December 2019.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.