The Airwave Network was first introduced in 2000 as a way to allow emergency services to communicate during major incidents without interruption.
All of Great Britain’s emergency services and over 300 public safety organisations communicate using the network and its coverage is actually superior to any of the publicly available networks, with 99 per cent coverage across the country.
The CMA has launched a market investigation, following a consultation earlier this year, which set out concerns about the impact of the dual role of Motorola as the owner of the company providing the current mobile radio network (Airwave Solutions) and as a key supplier in the roll-out of the planned new Emergency Services Network (ESN).
The ESN is superior to the Airwave network because it runs on 4G technology, instead of 2G, which will allow for live video streaming from officers on the scene and quick transfer of data relevant to ongoing incidents. However, it has faced repeated delays and costs rose £3.1bn over the original budget, according to a report from the National Audit Office in 2019.
The CMA said an independent group will now investigate the sector and decide if there are problems and, if so, put in place “appropriate solutions”.
The CMA said it is concerned that the Home Office was provided insufficient information in negotiations on the pricing of the Airwave network, particularly in relation to the associated costs needed to maintain and refresh the current network. It added that this left it with a “weak bargaining position” that made it difficult to secure value for money.
Due to Motorola’s dual role, Motorola has an incentive to delay or shape the roll-out of the ESN to its advantage, given the significant profits it currently receives from operating the Airwave network.
Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “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. 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.”
Motorola gained its dual role by purchasing the Airwave network in February 2016, two months after it had entered into a contract with the Government to provide software for ESN. The merger was cleared by the CMA, in part because of the general expectation that the Airwave network would be shut down by 2019.
A Motorola Solutions spokeswoman said: “We strongly believe that a market investigation is not warranted. The Airwave service delivers exceptional value for money for the UK taxpayer. Motorola Solutions has provided price reductions even while making significant investments to maintain the network, which is relied upon by the UK emergency services every day and continues to function at the highest levels.
“We reject the assertion that we have an incentive to delay the implementation of the ESN. In fact, we continue to deliver on our commitments and invest heavily in the ESN programme and its launch remains our key priority for the benefit of public safety professionals and citizens across the country.
“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.”