Tech

UK launches full blown probe of Motorola cop comms deals

Britain’s competition watchdog is launching a full blown probe into whether Motorola Solutions is abusing its position as the sole provider of an emergency service network by holding up the replacement project.

In early July, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was consulting on whether to take a deeper dive into the TETRA mobile radio network, run by Airwave (itself owned by Motorola), which currently delivers comms to support police, ambulance and fire rescue services.

The service, launched in 2000, was due to be replaced by the 4G-based Emergency Services Network in 2019 but that programme is running years late – and at last count in mid-2019, was £3bn over budget and three years late.

ESN underwent a complete revision in 2018 and is now due to go live in 2026. In the interim, Motorola’s contract for the telecoms and data networks was extended in 2020 for six years when it is due to be shuttered – an agreement Airwave admitted again recently could bag it £1.2bn in profits during the extension period.

Today, with evidence and responses gathered under the consultation phase, the CMA said an independent group will seek to ascertain if there are problems, and initiate solutions if required. The watchdog said it has worries the supply of the mobile radio network in Britain might not be working well, “resulting in a more expensive service for customers and, ultimately, the taxpayer.”

The reasons for this, it added, include “insufficient information” being given to the Home Office in negotiations on the price of the Airwave network.

“As a result of this, and the importance of the Airwave network for public safety in Great Britain, the Home Office is in a weak bargaining position and unable to secure value for money,” the CMA stated.

Further, the “dual role” of Motorola Solutions means the company “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.”

Motorola bought Airwave Solutions in February 2016, just months after had entered into a contract with UK.gov to provide software for its replacement – in the form of the ESN. The CMA cleared that merger at the time, partly because the Airwave service was scheduled to be closed at the end of 2019.

Andrea Coscelli, chief exec at the CMA, issued a statement:

“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.”

A Motorola Solutions spokesperson told The Reg that a “market investigation is not warranted”, and it has provided “financial transparency throughout this project, including audited, statutory financial statements, detailed reviews of CAPEX and spend, and financial plans for the Airwave network.”

The existing service represents “exceptional value” for British taxpayers and the company has offered price reductions “while making significant investments to maintain the network”.

“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.

“This is a contractual matter between the Home Office and Motorola Solutions and this investigation threatens the principles of long-term government contracting in the UK,” the spokesperson added. ®


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