Austrailian bank Macquarie is to buy Airwave, the national secure digital communications network used by the UK’s police forces, in a £1.9bn deal.
The network, currently owned by Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica, is used by 170,000 police officers across the UK and is regarded as a key part of Britain’s critical national infrastructure. Airwave is also used under contract by fire and ambulance services, London Underground, Channel Tunnel Rail and other public safety agencies.
The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) said it was “reassured” by the sale, citing Macquarie’s previous investment in public safety and critical infrastructure. The banking group has given a commitment to retain the Airwave business for a minimum of 10 years and to support an existing business and growth plan.
The NPIA, which began operations on 1 April, is the new agency set up by the government to support and improve the UK’s police forces. Its responsibilities include delivering critical support systems including the Police National Computer, the national DNA database and IDENT1, the national fingerprint and palm print system.
Macquarie’s acquisition of the Airwave network comes hot on the heels of its purchase of another key piece of the UK’s communications infrastructure earlier this month. The £2.5bn acquisition of National Grid Wireless gives Macquarie the mobile communications infrastructure used by the BBC, Vodafone, T-Mobile, 3, O2, Orange, BSkyB, Channel 4, ITV and Emap.
NPIA chief executive chief constable Peter Neyroud said: "We have worked in partnership with other key government customers and the suppliers and have been in continuous consultation throughout the negotiation process. However, the NPIA's priority remains to ensure uninterrupted service for the police service who rely on Airwave for all their communication requirements.”
He added: "We are confident that Macquarie meets the criteria set out by us which secures the maintenance and development of the communication infrastructure, commits to ongoing investment, offers a stable and focused management structure and looks to deliver long-term improvements to the system."
Jim Craig, Macquarie Bank Group’s European head, said: “For Airwave it will be business as usual. We look forward to working with the Airwave team, to continue to provide high quality, critical services to network users and to invest further in the business in accordance with the established business plan.”