The emergency services network goes mobile

I’m on my way into London to attend the Emergency Services Network (ESN) supplier day.  It’s all about how the emergency services and other listed users will communicate in the future.

What’s new?

Top of my agenda for the event is the proposed switch to cellular networks, rather than terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA). It means that for the first time, users will be able to transmit data over their network. Timely, considering 4G is almost here.

How will it help?

Cellular is a global open standard, with 3.4 billion users worldwide in 2013. That will rise to 3.9 billion users in 2017. It’s a proven, well-developed platform with open standards. Programmes like FirstNet in the US are great examples of cellular networks being adopted for emergency services.

But data is the key, especially as data seems to get bigger and richer every day.

Take police officers. They’ll be able to transmit photographs and videos at high speed, and access big files on-the-go. And they’ll be able to fill in reports quickly, on the spot. No need for re-keying back at base, which will save hours of laborious admin.

As technology evolves, we’ll see this information used for all sorts of things – think emergency vehicles acting as communication hubs for various devices and solutions. ‘Press to talk’ and Direct Mode functionality are being incorporated as part of a global standardisation drive via ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). This will be a blessing for many emergency services workers, who often have to carry a police-issue radio and BlackBerry, as well as their own smartphone.

Making the move

The switch to cellular may seem daunting, but it’s really not. Cellular and TETRA are interoperable, which makes user-by-user switchover easy.

The prioritisation of emergency services traffic over the network at peak times may raise concerns. But this capability already exists and is being used on the O2 network. And with 4G coming this summer, it’ll be even better.

Our network infrastructure has just been significantly improved, and we’re working to make it even better. And we’re the only operator committed to a regulatory requirement of reaching 98% indoor population coverage by 2017. But our network investment means we’ll achieve this up to two years earlier

If you’re interested in the ESN or have any questions about it, just email me at