EE’s emergency network extended upwards to cover airborne services

EE’s emergency network extended upwards to cover airborne services

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BT’s mobile arm, EE, has given a contract to Nokia to augment its much delayed network for emergency services in Britain.

Under the new deal, Nokia will install extra 4G coverage for airborne services operating from 500 feet to 10,000 feet above the ground, to augment the much delayed emergency services network (ESN) that EE will run for the government.

EE is calling this an air-to-ground (A2G) network, but BT confirmed to Capacity that it will operate not from balloons or aircraft but from conventional masts.

The nodes “have advanced capability offered by Nokia to extend the range and velocity requirements and the antennas point up”, a BT spokesman said.

BT said the service “will provide seamless connectivity between ground operations and air, connecting people, sensors, aircraft and helicopters with the highest security and reliability”.

It will “facilitate uninterrupted coverage allowing emergency services the capability to communicate with their airborne colleagues”.

Cormac Whelan, Nokia’s CEO for the UK and Ireland, said: “With the help of this first ever air-to-ground network using commercial LTE, emergency services personnel will be able to rely on uninterrupted communications nationwide.”

Under the government contract, the ESN is designed to operate in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland.

EE won the contract – before it was part of BT – to establish the ESN, which was supposed to take over the existing Airwave network, owned by Motorola, in a gradual transition from 2017 to 2019. However, because of extensive delays in the ESN, Airwave’s contract now runs until the end of 2022.

As part of the agreement, EE will provide the active network equipment for a full reference facility, and an initial seven-site trial network. Following the trial, EE will deploy the network equipment in over 80 cell sites across England, Scotland and Wales.

The first trial of the A2G network will take place over the coming months in North Wales and London, enabling EE, Nokia and the government to test the hardware capability over different terrain along with the hardware deployment process, the software capability, and the operational support of the complete A2G service, prior to the roll out of the final network.

In a report in May 2019 the public accounts committee of the UK House of Commons – which monitors public spending – said the government claimed that the ESN will cost £9.3 billion, which is £3.1 billion or 49% more than initially planned – and £1.4 billion of this is being spent on extending Airwave.

It noted that “the new plan is for Airwave to be switched off in December 2022 – three years later than its original date of 2019”, but noted: “ESN is unlikely to be ready by 2022.”


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