U.K. govt warns it would cost £475 million per year to extend current Airwave contracts.

EE’s 4G-based emergency services network (ESN) is running behind schedule and the delay could cost the U.K. hundreds of millions of pounds per year, it emerged on Wednesday.

The new infrastructure, which will be used by 105 police, fire and ambulance services, is due to be up and running by the end of 2019. However, a new report by the government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that the deadline might be pushed back because more testing is required before the ESN can go into service.

"The National Audit Office (NAO) estimated that the programme was between five and 10 months behind target and representatives of the 105 police, fire and ambulance services in Great Britain are less than 50% confident the emergency services network will be delivered on time. The Home Office confirmed to us that some slippage would occur," the PAC said.

At the moment, the emergency services use radio networks provided by Airwave.

The PAC warned that the government has not budgeted, nor drawn up contingency plans in the event that the Airwave contracts expire before the new ESN is ready.

"The current Airwave contracts expire in December 2019 and the only contingency if ESN is not functional by then is to extend them, which would cost an estimated £475 million for a year’s delay nationwide," the PAC said.

The Committee noted that a price for extending the Airwave deal on a monthly basis has been negotiated with Airwave parent Motorola, but detailed plans to manage any such extensions have not been prepared.

"These are crucial as Motorola requires notification by December 2018 at the latest in order to make the preparations needed to run the Airwave service past December 2019," the PAC said.

In a statement emailed to Total Telecom, an EE spokesman said the company is on track to meet its coverage target of 97% of the U.K. landmass by September, and that it is working with the Home Office to ensure coverage is available on the London Underground as well.

"We will rigorously test our coverage, and assist user organisations in their own testing so that all parties are confident in the coverage available. End user safety is the top priority at all times," he said.