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GLA Fire Committee raises concerns over Government’s Huawei ban relating to 5G

02 October 2020

NEW CONCERNS around the Government’s Huawei ban for 5G and how it could impact the Emergency Services Network programme for the blue light Emergency Services, which ensures they can talk to each other during any incident, have been raised by the Greater London Assembly’s (GLA) Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee.

The Emergency Services Network programme is set to radically change the way in which the Emergency Services communicate with each other across the country by replacing the current outdated Airwave radio system based on existing 4G mobile data. The programme, which is overseen by the Home Office, already has a predicted overspend of £3.1 billion and a delay to completion from the original target of 2017 to 2022.

On top of that, the Emergency Services Network will retain the use of Huawei technology, which will soon need to be replaced, so there’s a risk that the programme is based on technology with a short lifespan and security concerns.

As well as the Fire and Rescue Service, customers of the new Emergency Services Network will include ambulance services as well as a range of other users stretching from local authorities and utility services through to first responders like in-shore rescue. There are 300,000 front line Emergency Services users who will depend on the Emergency Services Network, using hand-held devices or operating equipment in 50,000 vehicles, 115 aircraft and 200 Control Rooms.

The software that the Emergency Services Network runs on is being provided by Motorola Solutions, with the infrastructure built by EE and created by upgrading its existing network, including deploying more 4G radio frequencies in rural areas, and building over 400 new sites. All new sites are open to being shared with other mobile network operators. To maximise coverage for the Emergency Services, the Government is scheduled to build around 300 further sites in the most remote and rural areas of Britain. Potentially, these will also bring much needed commercial coverage to these areas.

Reassurance from Government

Andrew Dismore, chair of the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee has written to the London Fire Brigade to ask what reassurance it has received from Government on the potential impact and implications on the Emergency Services Network if Huawei isn’t involved.

Dismore said: “The Government’s Huawei ban in terms of 5G infrastructure for the UK has potentially serious implications for the Emergency Services Network upgrade. The London Fire Brigade needs to be open and transparent about the potential impact it will have on cost, timeframes, safety and security.”

He continued: “A change of this magnitude within emergency communications needs to be handled extremely carefully, while the Committee needs frank reassurance that Huawei’s 5G ban will not adversely affect the Emergency Services Network programme.”

Further, Dismore stated: “The Emergency Services Network is already over budget and late. Lives cannot be put at risk. The Government needs to consult closely with the London Fire Brigade and other Emergency Services to work through any potential impact and delay to this programme.”

For its part, the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee exists to review the London Fire Commissioner’s priorities and objectives and make potential recommendations. Its work includes an assessment of:

*Any actions and decisions of the Mayor and/or Deputy Mayor for fire in relation to the GLA’s fire duties and responsibilities

*Any actions and decisions of the London Fire Commissioner

*Any actions and decisions of an officer of the London Fire Commissioner

*Any other matters which the Assembly considers to be of importance to Fire and Rescue in Greater London