Critical Communications: Upgrading emergency response

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Discover how Telent is transforming critical communications, unveiling a future-ready solution for Avon Fire & Rescue Service

In today’s digitised world, critical communication plays a pivotal role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of emergency services.

One such innovative company leading the way is Telent, a UK-based technology firm specialising in the creation and management of critical digital infrastructure, particularly for the public sector.

With a history rooted in the renowned Marconi services division, Telent’s expertise significantly impacts many of the UK and Ireland’s most crucial public sector organisations, most notably the emergency services.

The importance of the company’s role in critical communication is best highlighted by its recent project with Avon Fire & Rescue Service (Avon FRS).

Recognising the impending need for an upgrade of secondary bearers and networks that serve as backup connections for station end mobilisation systems, Telent delivered a future-proof solution.

The imminent withdrawal of traditional telephone lines (PSTN) and Avon FRS’s use of legacy PakNet technology prompted this vital move.

IFSJ Editor Iain Hoey caught up with Barry Zielinski, Operations and Services Director at Telent, to discuss the significance of the project, the challenges faced during its development, and the solutions brought to the table to ensure the operational continuity of Avon FRS.

The discussion also encompasses the anticipated transition to the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – the upcoming lifeline for emergency services that promises to revolutionise their operation.

Can you give me some background on Telent: What the company is and the service it provides?

Telent is a leading technology company specialising in the design, build, support and management of the UK’s critical digital infrastructure, with a key focus on IT networking solutions for the public sector.

We enable organisations to create and transform the IT environment and networks that their operations, staff and clients depend on.

Formed in 2006 from the services division of Marconi, Telent support IT and technology solutions for many of the UK and Ireland’s best-known public sector organisations, this includes our major focus on the emergency services.

Can you tell me about Telent’s recent network upgrade for Avon Fire & Rescue Service: What is the solution and why was it developed for the Avon FRS?

Many secondary bearers and networks used as back-up connections for station end mobilisation systems in fire stations across the UK are rapidly approaching end-of-life and need upgrading and replacing.

This includes the PSTN service of traditional telephone lines, scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of December 2025. 

Avon Fire and Rescue Service was using legacy PakNet technology for its secondary back-up bearers that was scheduled to be withdrawn from service.

These back up bearers ensure firefighters can respond to an emergency even if the main network goes down.

Our solution – based on a powerful router device from technology partner Cradlepoint – uses a mobile network data service for over-the-air connectivity and is equipped with a multi network SIM.

This allows the most appropriate mobile service provider to be automatically selected, eliminating any coverage issues in rural and remote based stations.

This is particularly useful for the communities it covers – Bath & Northeast Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire.

It is also compatible with the ESN Connect service and ready for the future transition to the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

Telent also upgraded the organisation’s fire coders – the core hardware technology that mobilises crews – as they were also approaching end-of-life. 

It was therefore essential that Avon FRS remained connected via a replacement system for PakNet and was utilising the most up-to-date, supported and secure operating systems.

We have ensured that Avon FRS now has a solution that ensures business continuity through its upgrades to the fire coders and the new router solution that is compatible with the ESN Connect service, providing readiness for the nationwide transition to ESN.

What challenges did Telent need to consider in the solution’s development?

As the solution uses a mobile network operator’s 4G service as the secondary bearer, we needed to consider coverage and availability of mobile services, particularly for more rural fire stations.

To ensure consistent connectivity we deployed multi-carrier SIM cards and configured the routers to select the carrier with the strongest signal available.

Can you talk about the testing and deployment process for the solution?

We provided a full service offering for Avon FRS, including the design, testing and deployment of the services.

We started with the initial development and pilot testing of the solution in our specialised lab, followed by pre-staging all equipment to minimise time on site and maximise quality of service for the main project deployment.

The pre-staging included testing and fully configuring all equipment to reduce any early-life failures and associated on-site engineering visits.

Were there any challenges in the implementation of the new system when taking over from the legacy system?

Station end systems are a critical component of the fire service mobilisation solution.

Therefore, work to upgrade each fire station needed to be coordinated to ensure the dual running of both the legacy system and new solution, while new equipment was installed across all locations.

What is ESN and why should fire and rescue services be aware of it?

The new Emergency Services Network (ESN) will replace the current Airwave service used by emergency services in Great Britain and transform the way they operate.

All police, fire and ambulance services across England, Scotland and Wales use this critical network to communicate between the field and control rooms.

As part of its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), the Home Office envisioned ESN fully replacing Airwave, costing less and providing users with access to modern mobile data.

ESN will enable fast, safe and secure voice, video and data across the 4G network and give first responders immediate access to life-saving data, images and information in live situations and emergencies on the frontline.

Over 300,000 emergency services users, including Police, Fire & Rescue and Ambulance, will use the 4G voice and data services provided by ESN.

It will also be used by government agencies and other first responders like Immigration Enforcement and inshore rescue services.


When we asked Avon Fire and Rescue Service for a comment on the upgrade to the systems, John Craig, Station Manager said: “We are delighted with our collaboration with Telent to upgrade and replace our legacy technology for our mission-critical station end communications in readiness for the transition to ESN.

“Working with Telent has provided us with the complete confidence that our firefighters have access to unfailing and continuous communications to effectively and diligently undertake their daily duties.”

Throughout the conversation with Zielinski, it becomes increasingly evident that Telent’s role is pivotal in the evolution of emergency services.

Their cutting-edge solution not only replaces the outgoing legacy technology but prepares the Avon FRS for the nationwide transition to ESN.

In fact, this initiative showcases the imminent transformation of critical communication infrastructure in the UK.

By deploying a powerful router device equipped with a multi-network SIM for over-the-air connectivity, Telent has eradicated potential coverage issues in rural and remote-based stations.

Furthermore, the company has reinforced the importance of pre-staging and stringent testing protocols to ensure the seamless integration of new technologies.

This careful and meticulous approach minimises early-life failures and enhances the service quality for the main project deployment.

Undoubtedly, the introduction of ESN will be a game-changer for emergency services.

As explained by Zielinski, ESN promises more secure and efficient communication, allowing first responders to access critical data, images, and information in real time.

The success of the project and the testimonial from John Craig is surely a testament to Telent’s vital role in this transformation.

It illustrates the significant strides made in ensuring uninterrupted and robust communications for firefighters.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that such technological advancements are not just beneficial, but necessary for the continual evolution and efficiency of our emergency services.

This exclusive article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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