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Found 9 results

  1. Push-to-talk functionality on the London Underground has been a hard won police radio capability, but its future on the new LTE network faces serious hurdles. Gary Mason reports. It is somewhat ironic that in a multi-billion pound public safety communication project investing in cutting edge long-term evolution (LTE) technology, a major sticking point is the reliability of push-to-talk voice messages – a capability that has been around since the days of analogue police radios. This is just the latest problem facing the Emergency Services Network (ESN) project, which at least two recent reports have predicted would not be ready on time. This means the existing system, Airwave, is expected to be maintained for an unknown period after its expensive contract with the Home Office and the UK’s blue light first-responder services expires. Police concerns about the voice function on the new LTE handsets, whenever they emerge, have been highlighted in the latest Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, published in January. Push-to-talk allows users to contact their colleagues with only the press of one button. The function must be reliable and work in remote areas – not just rural environments, but also the underground tunnels of the metro systems in London and Glasgow. Devices with the appropriate levels of robustness, voice and dual-mode capabilities are currently under development. The Home Office told the PAC it had already received prototype devices and was confident a good selection would be available for users to choose from by next year. But the devil, as usual, is in the detail. Some of the technical challenges in developing mission critical push-to-talk capability on LTE handsets were spelled out in oral evidence to the committee. Under the terms of the ESN contract with the Home Office, Motorola Solutions is responsible for delivering user services, such as data centres, help desks and SIM card management. While the scope of its contract does not include devices, Vincent Kennedy, vice-president and general manager of Motorola Solutions UK, gave the committee an insight into some of the technical challenges that had emerged with prototype LTE handsets. Push-to-talk latency The ESN envisages two types of device that will run on the network: 4G data devices and voice devices. The 4G handsets can attach to the new network relatively easily, but voice handling is more complex. “When you move the voice service on to a commercial mobile phone network, the device has to act in a specialised way,” Kennedy told the committee. “If I picked up my phone and dialled your number, it would take a few seconds to ring. It might take six seconds to you or five seconds [to someone else]. In this world, when I am the commander of a team at a firearms incident and I press the button on the device and say, “Don’t fire”, you instantly all have to hear the same thing. It is a big problem if you hear, “Don’t fire”, and another person hears, “Fire.” That is just an example, but the voice piece makes the device more specialised, and it has to work in a special way.” The technical term for this issue is push-to-talk latency. Police using the system need to be confident that the latency can be low enough with 4G that it won’t be a problem, and that the voice message received by everyone during an incident will be as near to instantaneous as possible, which it isn’t right now. Kennedy said Motorola been investing in the research and development of mobile LTE technology for public safety since 2010. He said: “It [LTE] is where the public safety market is going. They will eventually all be using mobile broadband, mobile data and voice. If it works to design, the latency can be solved, but that is why the design is so strict around the devices and the network.” He told the committee that the latency issue can currently be proved in a lab environment, but it needed to be tested in the field under extreme conditions. A testing regime will continue all through the spring and summer. Operational trials could commence in the autumn of 2017 and will go on for several months. “These are big technology projects, but they are not like regular IT projects. The people who use this technology – their lives depend on the technology working,” he added. The example Kennedy gave during the committee hearings bears a chilling reminder of the shooting of electrician Jean Charles de Menezes by Met firearms officers in July 2005 at Stockwell underground station after he was mistaken for a terrorist suspect. At the inquest into the killing, a firearms officer told the court he could have missed important messages over the radio and told the inquest that the signal was weak, faint and fuzzy and would sometimes cut out altogether. Given such real life examples, why has the Home Office chosen to go with unproven technology? In a previous report published last year outlining problems with the ESN project the National Audit Office said that it is ambitious and the first of its kind in the world. A world first Other countries are pursuing solutions either fully or partly based on older terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) technology and dedicated networks, such as Airwave. The Home Office told the PAC that, in an ideal world, it would not want to be first to adopt unproven technology. But it considered that the other options it had for replacing Airwave, such as a hybrid system that uses radio for voice communications and 4G mobile for data, were “equally risky” and that it had to consider a wide range of financial, operational, technological and legal factors when making its decision. The programme also faces a number of other technical challenges. The new system will operate across a commercial 4G network requiring new software to allow emergency services users priority over commercial customers. EE, who have been awarded the network contract, told the committee it had completed system testing to prove the prioritisation technology would work and that during an emergency its network would be able to prioritise all 300,000 emergency service users, if necessary. Meanwhile, Motorola has responsibility for setting the specifications and approving devices for use on the ESN. Since it is also a supplier of devices, the Home Office told the PAC committee it had “been very careful to make sure the specifications do not exclude other providers and are not bespoke. It is a standards-based process”. One of the biggest risks with the new system is ensuring coverage in remote areas and in hard to reach places, such as the London Underground. The Home Office says that using 4G mobile data technology instead of radio opens up more options for plugging gaps in coverage, such as by using temporary masts. Time is a factor Discussions are still ongoing between the Home Office and Transport for London (TfL) on how best to extend coverage into the Underground, as well as contingencies and options for the transition process. The Home Office hopes to make an announcement in the next couple of months on this issue. Time is a factor, since the rollout of the ESN is just two years away. If TfL cannot roll-out the technology in that time, the Home Office would need to agree an alternative solution with TfL. This is a crucial issue for the police and fire service in London in particular, as a fully functioning emergency services communications system was a hard fought and long awaited upgrade. The lack of such a system was first highlighted by the inquiry into the response to the King’s Cross fire in 1987. These concerns were then reiterated after the 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks, which centred on London’s transport system. Airwave was eventually rolled out fully in January 2009 to all 125 below ground London Underground stations. This meant that British Transport Police (BTP), the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the City of London Police are able to use the same radios underground. The rollout linked the emergency services network to London Underground’s Connect digital radio system, part of the Transport for London’s £10bn investment programme. Natural disasters The vulnerability of city subway systems not just to terrorist attack, but also to natural disasters is well documented. The need for a robust emergency services communications system that links into the network operated by the transport authority is also well recognised. When Hurricane Sandy swept through the New York metropolitan area in October 2012, it left behind extensive damage to New York City Transit facilities throughout the subway system. A record storm surge inundated tunnels, filling critical operations rooms that housed electric equipment for signals, relays and communications with highly corrosive saltwater. The storm also exposed a need for a better and faster way for supervisors to communicate with crew members and customers in times of emergency. Even after three years and thousands of hours of labour spent repairing and restoring service to pre-Sandy levels, the subway system has yet to fully recover, with many related repairs still to be made. In 2015, MTA New York City Transit received two Federal Transit Administration grants totaling $57.1m (£45.7m) for two major storm resiliency projects in subway stations: a new emergency communications system and a hardening project to protect station rooms critical to service delivery. Until March 2016 police officers in the transit system could only communicate with each other underground because police were on two different radio frequencies. Using a $100m grant, mostly spent upgrading existing technology, all officers’ radios were reprogrammed to allow them to communicate over ultra-high frequencies on the street and in the subway. Their use was delayed for years, mainly for reasons that had nothing to do with technology, but bureaucratic inertia. Read on Police Oracle
  2. Hi I'm looking to see if there are better quality earpieces available which would give much better clarity of sound. Just like high-end headphones - the sound is more better and less tinny... I know it would be hard as it is such a small speaker component but seeing what's out there.
  3. http://www.mobilenewscwp.co.uk/2015/12/10/ee-wins-7-billion-emergency-services-contract/ Call me cynical but I'll be looking for this to come in behind schedule and over budget.
  4. The company which provides critical communications infrastructure to Britain's emergency services is holding secret talks about a sale amid uncertainty over the destination of a new £1bn Government contract. Sky News has learnt that Airwave, which was bought in 2007 for £1.9bn by two infrastructure funds managed by Macquarie, the Australian bank, has been engaged in discussions with a range of potential buyers including Motorola Solutions and Hong Kong Telecom. Vodafone is also said to have been examining a possible bid. Airwave provides communications services to the police, ambulance and fire services using conventional radio spectrum, having been established in 2000 under the ownership of what was then BT Group's mobile phone division, BT Cellnet. The company is now valued at roughly £1bn including its debt pile, sources said. News of the auction comes just days after O2 pulled out of a procurement process being run by the Home Office to appoint a provider of a dedicated 4G network due to be introduced during the next few years. Some experts have raised concerns about the intended switch because of doubts that the technology is ready and reliable. O2's withdrawal leaves EE, which is in the process of being acquired by BT, as the sole remaining bidder for the contract. The Airwave sale process is being run by Lazard, the investment bank. It also comes as a review by David Anderson QC said that laws enabling the police and security services to monitor the public's phone and internet activity were "undemocratic and unnecessary", and required a complete overhaul. The ability to persuade a bidder to pay a substantial price for Airwave could hinge on whether the company can position itself as an attractive alternative to the current procurement process with only one remaining contender for the contract. Deloitte, EY and Rothschild are all understood to have roles in the process advising either the Airwave board or the company's lenders. Other prospective bidders, such as BT, are said to be monitoring the process, but it is not thought to have tabled a formal bid. The contest to build and run a new Emergency Services Network (ESN) was launched by the Home Office in 2013, with the intention of awarding the contract in the late summer of this year and services beginning in 2017. In March, the Home Office said that Airwave Solutions, UK Broadband Networks (a subsidiary of Hong Kong Telecom) and Vodafone were no longer in the running for the main emergency services network contract. In a statement given to the Financial Times earlier this week, the Home Office said that O2's decision to withdraw had been disappointing, but added: "However, the process to establish a more effective, flexible, and affordable network for the UK's police, fire and ambulance services will continue. "Procurement remains extremely competitive and will deliver value for money." The parties involved in the sale process either refused to comment or could not be reached. http://news.sky.com/story/1500378/999-comms-firm-airwave-in-secret-sale-talks Incredible, the way this is all going we'll end up with tin cans and string.
  5. Disastrous procurement promises less than services currently have The Register: Full story
  6. Quite a chilling video I've just come across on youtube. Shows the importance of our airwaves handsets and its features. I do wonder what will happen in 2016 though..
  7. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/01/08/airwave_tetra_switch_off_gov_services_onmishambles/?page=1 Police radios will be KILLED soon – yet no one dares say 'Huawei' Why 4G is no solution for emergency services In less than 18 months' time the police radio network will be switched off. There is no obvious replacement and the looming omnishambles is turning into a bonanza for Arqiva, the only company brave enough to offer a solution. Peter Neyroud CBE, former head of the National Policing Improvement Agency and now at the University of Cambridge lecturing in criminology told us: “They moved to do what they are doing far too late. I told Labour to get on with it in 2009.” The British police and the other emergency services use a system called Airwave. This uses a technology called Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) which is half way between a mobile phone system and a walkie talkie. It’s an ancient technology and very poor at mobile data, which runs at 7.2kbs. There is a standard to boost that to 700kbps but it has never been implemented. Instead the plan is to replace it with 4G. The new £1.2bn Emergency Services Network contract will replace the previous £2.9bn digital radio communications supplied by one company, Airwave. Airwave revolutionised policing in many rural areas but more recently has been criticised for being too costly as it was set at a fixed price, with escalation, more than a decade ago. Peter Neyroud, who negotiated the initial contracts, told us that as police budgets have been squeezed and the cost of the Airwave contract has risen it’s become a more significant line item. “It was never cheap,” said Neyroud, “but given what you were asking it to do it was always going to cost,”pointing out that it replaced a system of UHF and VHF that was incredibly patchy and unreliable. Airwave was initially part of O2 but the company was taken over by Macquarie Group Limited, a private equity firm, and the prices to the emergency services reflected this. Neyroud told us that while the pricing was baked in from the start, Airwave doesn’t have much room to move as Macquarie ultimately has shareholders to service. Devices made in low volumes for specialist use are also expensive. To those of us used to mobile phones, where you can get an Android device for under £100, a voice-only radio at thousands seems exorbitant. The plan to move to 4G sounds sensible but the people who actually use emergency communications have deep reservations. So, keen to find something faster and affordable, the emergency services are looking to 4G. While Airwave does support full duplex, one of the most important features the emergency services want is push-to-talk, a walkie-talkie like service. And that is where the focus of making mobile fit for use by the emergency services has been. Push (and wait) to talk What’s often not appreciated by the mobile community is the issue of latency. Anyone who has used a walkie-talkie knows that the instant you press the button the person at the other end can hear you. Mobile phone push-to-talk systems are rarely like this. You press the button, it switches to the right app, fires up, makes an IP connection and then starts the communication. This is not instant. Indeed, using such a system where you can see and hear the other person is un-nerving, with a significant delay that is more than an echo. Even a traditional 2G or 3G voice call has a little latency which you can hear if both people are in the same room. Push-to-talk latency isn’t a problem in the “it might replace SMS” scenario the mobile industry once envisaged for it, but it is in an emergency. The classic example the Armed Forces give is to imagine a commander who has a team of snipers on a roof pointing at a target. He gives the command: “Don’t shoot”. Unfortunately, in a cellular, IP based device, it takes a fraction of a second for the app to fire up and make a connection – a fraction of a second which is just long enough for the word “Don’t” to fail to make it into the message. With 4G you might hope that this is fixed. VoLTE has fantastically low latency. We made a call at Vodafone’s labs recently and it’s what surprised us most. But there are a host of other problems. Push-to-talk isn’t in the specification yet, it needs LTE Release 13 and that’s a little way off. Phase 2 of the specification for mission critical push-to-talk over LTE has a completion date of June 2015. That’s just the due date for the spec; devices will follow some time after. Bear in mind they need a hardware button as well, meaning it’s not just a software update, so a year from spec to implementation would be reasonable. Say June 2016. The Airwave switch-off is due to start in April 2016. That is just the beginning of the problem. If it uses 4G it needs 100 per cent 4G coverage, and we don’t even have 100 per cent coverage if you combine everything on 2G, 3G and 4G. We’ve written plenty about that before. A system where there were areas in which police radios don't work is pretty appalling: one where criminals knew they didn’t work, many times worse. It’s one thing having your house price determined by mobile coverage but imagine having a bank or a jeweller's shop where the police couldn’t communicate. Even if the services used multi-IMSI SIMS to access all UK networks, there are too many not-spots. You can then add to this the problem that with 4G there are other users on the network: ordinary customers, who, given that they are in the middle of an emergency, will want to call their mum or post a video of the explosion to YouTube. There are systems in place to give emergency services priority but network congestion is still going to affect the ability of the backhaul infrastructure to cope. The Home Office issues licenses for the emergency services to set a bit on the SIM to enable MTPAS (Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme), previously called ACCOLC (Access Overload Control), and still informally called that. There is a limited pool of MTPAS SIMs and the police force which wants one has to get its mobile operator to fill in the paperwork for the Home Office to request it. The IMSI of the enabled SIM is registered with the network. 'Give a cop an iPhone and he'll break it in 10 minutes' MTPAS allows different levels of priority; it’s an eight bit flag so in theory there could be 256 levels of importance, but in practice only one bit is used. In the case of a major emergency MTPAS gives those with the prioritised access to the mobile network and those without get kicked off. Neyroud points out that this has never been done in the UK. It was, however, done in New York for the September 11 2001 attacks, although only on some mobile channels, leaving the rest for ordinary users. Using it might not even be the right decision. Taking service from someone stuck under a building to give it to the emergency services smacks of trolleyism. The mobile industry believes that with push-to-talk and MTPAS it can deliver an emergency services, service. Leaving aside the issue of coverage and assuming we lived in the world which exists in the heads of mobile operators where there was ubiquitous 4G coverage. Let’s look back at the specification of the devices. One of the important things Tetra does - and cellular does not - is device-to-device and mesh communications. For the most part Tetra is like a phone system in that it uses base stations and towers to give spectrum re-use, but in many emergency situations the towers won’t survive the tsunami, earthquake, bomb or whatever. So Tetra devices can talk directly to each other. It is also possible to use a repeater, a car or truck can be brought to the scene which will relay signals. Tetra uses 2w at around 400MHz so range is rarely an issue, but not having a direct mode is and LTE cannot do it. There is an LTE specification called PROSE which specifies repeaters and gateways – but a hugely important aspect of emergence services work is the use of groups. The LTE-Broadcast specifications could be hijacked to do groups but LTE-Broadcast won’t work though a PROSE gateway. Besides, LTE-Broadcast is designed for covering huge groups. It’s been demonstrated providing video feeds for whole crowds at football matches. In the emergency services there are more likely to be ten people in a group and they need to be allocated dynamically. Fire and ambulance services often share telecoms with their local police forces: that’s still a lot of people who will want high level access to the mobile phone network. People whose concerns will not include protecting the commercial interests of the mobile network. They’ll switch off paying customers and then maybe apologise later. There are many aspects to creating groups but one important one is the use of a dispatcher. When a team is sent out to an incident the different parts of the team, most simply fire, police and ambulance, might be allocated as different groups. A dispatcher might give a message to all three, two of the three or just one of the groups. Push-to-talk is as much about one-to-many as it is about one-to-one communications. You can’t individually call everyone in an area to say “watch it, that wall is about to fall down”. A group might be dynamically allocated by the dispatcher to include everyone in a building and then they can automatically hear each other’s messages without hearing about what’s going elsewhere. This isn’t even being discussed in the 3GPP groups. It might be easier if the emergency services all stayed on the frequency allocated to them, but that’s not an option with LTE. Tetra occupies 25KHz per channel; DMR uses 12.5KHz; while pretty much the minimum you can use for LTE is 5MHz. You just wouldn’t get enough channels out of the available spectrum. Neyroud believes the answer lies in the 700MHz “digital dividend” spectrum which is becoming available, and says that it’s the approach other countries are looking at, but the UK has announced that it will be auctioned off. There has been no information on what form the auction will take, but even the flop of the 4G frequencies raised £3bn. 700MHz is much more valuable so you can see where the government’s interests lie. Given that LTE isn’t going to offer the features the emergency services need for voice and that Tetra, even if it isn’t switched off, can’t deliver the data service that is needed – particularly for the fire brigade, which needs building plans and maps – Neyround favours a hybrid device. It needs to be custom made to do both Tetra and LTE and be robust. “Give a cop an iPhone and he’ll break it in 10 minutes” Neyround told us. There is one company working on just this. A company with great manufacturing, radio infrastructure and device expertise and which could deliver just what the emergency services want. You're not going to like the next bit Unfortunately that company is Huawei, which despite constant protestations that it’s not a backdoor to the Chinese government is still regarded with suspicion by anyone making strategic Telco decisions and has been described Michael Hayden, a former head of the CIA and the NSA as an “unambiguous national security threat”. It’s unlikely that anyone who looks beyond the cost of implementation will want to risk giving our emergency services Huawei kit. Asked if it would worry him if the police were issued with Huawei devices Neyround said “Yes, I’d worry, I’d worry a lot”. The contract is a mess, it will be split into four areas or "lots" including a programme manager "delivery partner", a technical "user services" vendor, a mobile network operator responsible for delivering 4G and an "extension services" supplier for remote areas. The rationale behind splitting the contract into chunks is part of central government's drive to "disaggregate" big contracts in order to increase procurement with smaller suppliers. A move away from the so-called "one throat to choke" model of the past with mega IT suppliers. Yet for a contract as complex and critical as this one, major problems could arise from such in-built structural complexity. For example, if a technical issue arises in any of the lots, who will now be responsible for yanking the supplier's chain? Under the previous contract any problems were Airwave's sole responsibility. And while bids for the programme manager role in lot one are understood to be from some capable project management firms, they are not system integrators and will not be taking the role of co-ordinating all the moving parts. This means responsibility for integration and control will now lie with the Home Office, a role it has sub-contracted to Airwave for over a decade and has little capability in delivering. Talking to a number of people in the industry who don’t want to go on the record, the consensus of opinion is that as the Airwave switch-off isn’t until the other side of the election, it will get kicked into the long grass. The Tetra system will be retained under an extension clause and while there are officially a number of bidders to take this on, only the infrastructure company Arqiva is really in the running. One expert told us: “This is such a high risk venture people are not going to be rushing forward.” Arqiva has a taste for the politically dangerous. That extension to Tetra will have to be quite a long one. It will need LTE to evolve into a service which can provide the features the fire, police and ambulance services require, coverage to be rolled out and then tested. There was 18 months of testing with Airwave before that went live. We might see a contract for a replacement issued in 18 months, but the replacement service? No way.
  8. Hi all. I'm curious about how and when the police Emergency Assistance buttons are used. What kind of situations may call for it? And I'm assuming that in terms of response teams / patrols, they are normally done in pairs, so I'm guessing use of the button would mean something pretty hairy right?
  9. From the register http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/coppers_seek_new_radio_contract/ Interesting how the Police ICT co is now owned by the PCC's. Is this the easy way for Theresa May to blame someone else for in-action at PICTco? You'd think the PCCs would be more interested in local matters. Maybe a group of chief constables would be better placed to run the company. They are more concerned about operational matters. I wonder how easy it will be to move to a new (several new systems) to replace Airwave especially with all the staff/officer cuts of recent years.