Home Office seeks direct mode solution for ESN devices

The Home Office has signalled its intention to “enter into a market engagement exercise” for a direct mode, device-to-device (D2D) solution for devices using the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

The solution will take the form of a TETRA-based remote speaker microphone (RSM) coupled to the ESN LTE handheld mobile device provided by Samsung. The contract is estimated to be worth £40 million.

The Home Office’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) published its intention in a Prior Information Notice in the EU’s Tenders Electronic Daily website on 14 January 2020. ESMCP’s aim is to “discuss its potential requirements with potential suppliers in the market of provision of device to device communications”.

The lack of a reliable D2D solution based on 3GPP LTE standards has been a major stumbling block for those countries looking to migrate their emergency services from narrowband two-way radio networks, such as TETRA and P25 to 4G LTE broadband. D2D is a vital feature for police and fire brigades in particular.

3GPP does offer a D2D feature known as Proximity Services (ProSe) but the current solution is not deemed an adequate equivalent to the direct mode available on TETRA and P25 radios. A major problem is ProSe poor coverage range compared with TETRA and P25 radios, which have much more powerful transmitters. In addition, very few smartphone chip makers have added ProSe to their silicon.

ESCMP notes that the long-term proposal for LTE is to use ProSe to address the D2D requirement. “However, this cannot be implemented within the authority timescales (for reasons including the immaturity of the standards and the lack of support in current devices and networks). An alternative solution is therefore required to meet the D2D user requirement until such time as a standards-based ProSe solution can be introduced,” the PIN stated.

ESMCP will provide a request for information (RFI) to interested suppliers with a number of questions. The RFI closing date for receipt of responses is 5pm on 5 February 2020.