The Foreign Office has awarded Vodafone a contract extension worth up to £55 million to keep running a secure government communications channel, under a three-year extension to the so-called “ECHO” framework agreement — just two months after putting a new framework agreement for a single supplier out to tender.
The existing contract was first inked in 2010 by Cable and Wireless UK (later bought by Vodafone UK in April 2012). It will have been worth £282 million by the time the extension wraps up. (The government has extended three call-off contracts by up to 30 months for the British Council, up to 42 months for the FCO and DfID.)
The original contract spanned application, network and lifecycle services covering a “range of UK Government security impact levels”, the FCO said. It earlier went to market on June 3, 2020 with a new RFP for a single supplier who will connect ministerial headquarters and other head offices in the UK with their respective embassies, consulates and other office locations — in total, 532 sites in 180 countries.
That new contract will be worth up to £184 million, with “significant elements are expected to be called off when the framework agreement is awarded (or very shortly thereafter)” as the FCO works to modernise government networks.
While re-procurement is pending, an extension was necessary as it is “significantly likely that there would be numerous difficulties with putting in place an interim contract before the re-procurement of the services is complete”, the FCO said.
“Any interim contract would require both a transition period and exit period, which is significantly likely to cause great inconvenience, duplication of transition costs, be disproportionately expensive and may cause technical issues to a core government service” it added, in a contract notice on a European tenders portal.
The service will include the provision of global communication applications like voice, video, data transfer and rapid deployment, network services that cover ECHO and non-ECHO services such as LAN, remote access and of course internet access. Finally, the new ECHO extension will cover lifestyle provisions like security and training.
The extension begins on September 13, 2020.
Last year the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Sir Alan Duncan noted that the department does “not keep a register of equipment used in the ECHO network… Many official residences also make use of ECHO connectivity, or contract local communications providers. Where communications are sensitive, data is encrypted to a suitable level across the ECHO network.”
June’s RFP shows what’s needed to modernise the network, namely:
(i) “A network platform — providing the customer with a resilient network traffic management capability using next generation networking technologies.
(ii) “Global connectivity services — multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) connectivity, providing the customer with the ability to route network traffic over MPLS links from overseas sites to the UK and between overseas sites with guaranteed capacity and performance levels… [a] very small aperture terminal for sites where the provision of other forms of connectivity are not available or a backup connection is required.
(iii) “Secure internet gateway — providing the customer with outbound access to enable end users to securely consume services hosted on the internet.
(iv) “Software defined perimeter — providing the customer with secure remote connectivity enabling access to its data and applications through a network security framework that dynamically creates one-to-one network connections between each user and the resources that they access.
(v) “Next generation firewall — providing the customer with next generation firewall technologies, enhancing and complementing the traditional stateful inspection firewall with other network device filtering functions, such as but not limited to, in-line deep packet inspection, intrusion prevention system and application awareness.
(vi) “Encryption devices… for Official tier data in transit.”
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