CMA launches investigation into Motorola’s Airwave network

October 25, 2021

The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Motorola’s Airwave network. The network covers the infrastructure and services that enable the police, fire and emergency services to communicate securely with each other.

The Airwave network was commissioned by the Home Office in 2000 and the agreement was due to end in December 2019. At this point, the network was expected to be shut down and be replaced with ESN, a new secure communications solution using a commercial 4G mobile network. In the last two years, there have been increasing concerns about the delays to the roll-out of ESN and costs to the British taxpayer of the continuing operation of the Airwave network. It is now expected that the Airwave network will continue until the end of 2026.

Motorola gained its dual role by purchasing the Airwave network in February 2016, two months after it had entered into a contract with the UK government to provide software for ESN. The merger was cleared by the CMA, in part because of the general expectation that the Airwave network would be shut down by 2019. 

The CMA’s decision to launch a market investigation follows a consultation earlier this year which  set out concerns about the impact of the dual role of Motorola as the owner of the company providing the current mobile radio network (Airwave Solutions) and as a key supplier in the roll-out of the planned new ESN.

Following the consultation, an independent group will now investigate the sector and decide if there are problems, and if so, put in place appropriate solutions. The CMA is concerned that the market for the supply of the mobile radio network used by all emergency services in Great Britain might not be working well, resulting in a more expensive service for customers and, ultimately, the taxpayer. The CMA has set out two key reasons for this:

  • Insufficient information (especially regarding the projects and associated costs needed to maintain and refresh the current network) being provided to the Home Office in negotiations on the pricing of the Airwave network. Due to 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.
  • Given Motorola’s dual role, Motorola 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.