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Fire services to keep Airwave Tetra radios until 2020

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has approved a four-year extension of its wide-area radio Firelink Project Agreement for fire and rescue services in England, Scotland and Wales.

Originally signed in 2006, Firelink is a private, secure digital terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network, designed and built by blue light networking supplier Airwave.

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The network, which went fully live in 2010 and covers all 57 fire and rescue services in Great Britain, 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.

Additionally, in London, Scotland and Wales, Firelink is able to identify and deploy the closest available vehicle to an incident using an automated vehicle location system.

Its extension to the end of 2019, with an option to extend further still to 2020, was welcomed by Airwave, which in February 2015 was dropped from the government’s £1.2bn Emergency Services Network (ESN) procurement, amid talk that its Tetra system was too old, expensive and inflexible.

However, the government’s preferred option of using commercially available LTE broadband networks to deliver comms services to the emergency services has also been heavily criticised.

In 2014, Labour’s Jack Dromey, then shadow policing minister, said the government was rushing forwards with “unseemly haste” without properly considering exactly how a priority service on a commercial network might work, or affect service for the general public.

The Home Office, which is overseeing the ESN procurement, hopes to have the service up and running in 2016 or 2017 as Airwave’s contracts begin to expire.

Airwave chief operating officer John Lewis said the supplier had worked with every fire and rescue service in Great Britain to establish an in-depth understanding of each service’s unique needs and ways of working, and that the Tetra network had proved its worth many times.

“The network’s built-in resilience is frequently called on when our customers need it most,” he said. “For example, during the January 2014 floods when parts of the country experienced widespread power cuts, our customers could continue to communicate as the network remained operational – the only network to do so.”

He added: “Reaching 99% of Great Britain’s landmass and maintaining 99.97% availability over the past year means we are well placed to continue working with them to deliver the mission-critical service they need, both now and well into the future.”

DCLG had not commented on the contract extension at the time of writing.


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