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Marty McFly1546081284

Police Oracle: Airwave Could Be Replaced

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Marty McFly1546081284
Airwave 'Could Be Replaced'

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Government programme looking at joining communications provision across all emergency services as Airwave contract comes to an end.

A standardised, tri-service communications system for all emergency services could replace the current TETRA radio technology.

The Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP), led by the Home Office, was created to find a replacement for the technology offered by service provider Airwave as their contracts with the Police Service are due to come to an end from 2016.

In its search for a replacement, the programme is looking at the future provision of radio and data communications for the three emergency services by reviewing the specific requirements of each service.

It will also assess the viability of amalgamating the product into a co-ordinated and standardised system that can be easily used by any one of the services.

Long Term Evolution

The remit of the programme includes providing a capability to be more flexible with data and mobile communications so that they can interface seamlessly with the continuous developments of technology.

This will be achieved by examining innovations in technology, including Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and 4G and probing how these could be developed into the future communications network.

Public safety organisations in America are leading the field when it comes to LTE of their communications systems. A nationwide public safety broadband system for all emergency services in each state is progressing following $7million of federal funding.

The system will provide a dedicated 700MHz frequency band to police, fire and other first responders which will facilitate applications including real time video and mapping.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is pilot testing the spectrum for functionality with the associated applications.

The key priority that has emerged is the need for emergency services to have a guaranteed communications system even at times of peak demand, which commercial providers have not been able to currently meet.

The ESMCP is now developing several operational concept models drawing in the requirements of each service including availability, coverage, data (including video streaming), performance and security.

In their scope for innovation they will also consider secure personal wireless networks and WiFi.

Telecommunication operators that are being consulted during the project include O2, Vodafone and Airwave along with equipment suppliers Motorola, Ericsson and IP Wireless.

TETRA Limitations

According to Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company who provided an analysis of the current system to the ESMCP, the current TETRA network is not suitable to host “data centric” applications and services, which they believe will be a growing trend.

Geoff Stuttaford, the Police Federation’s lead on Airwave, said the current system used by forces had several weaknesses, including radio coverage and resilience.

He explained that when the system was contracted to forces, it only covered provision for officers using it on the street.

In an interview with PoliceOracle.com he said: “There are good and bad points to it.

“There are serious issues with coverage, especially when officers go into buildings because their signal just drops.

“In very rural areas there are problems for officers who are too far away from masts and there are also problems with helicopters using digital radio because the original plans from Airwave never accounted for it being used in that way.”

Other issues raised by officers include the length of time it takes for repairs to be fixed as well as poor reception in different areas.

As previously reported a research programme is underway by the Imperial College London examining the possible health impact Airwave has on officers.

The 12-year study, which began in 2005, involves the health screening and questioning of a selection of officers from all forces in the UK as well as monitoring their exposure to Airwave.

Mr Stuttaford added: “There are, however, good points about TETRA; the devices used are smaller and easy to carry and the radios are a lot clearer than analogue, which would fade in and out of coverage.

“We can also use the SMS facility for messaging – so there are lots of good things too.

Looking at future developments for the Police Service’s radio communication, he added: “The team assembled to look at future provision for police communications are very practically based and they are aware of the concerns we have with Airwave.

“It all comes down to money; the more they are willing to invest the better the technology will be.”

A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed the government is carrying out an extensive review of the requirements of the emergency services as well as the latest technology available; however, he refused to provide any additional information on it.

The only definitive timescale of the programme is that a system must be ready when the current Airwave contract ENDS in 2016. The Home Office declined to provide information on specific timescales.

PoliceOracle.com will report further on this programme when more details emerge

http://www.policeoracle.com/news/Police+IT+and+Technology/2013/Feb/19/Feature-Airwave-Could-Be-Replaced_61319.html

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Guest

Considering how overpriced the current system is, hopefully whatever they get will be better value for money.

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Marty McFly1546081284

I can see far more useful things for spending money on than creating a totally new airwaves, as according to NPIA airwaves cost was £2.3 billion at 1999 prices excluding handsets and control room upgrades.

Alot of the limitations could be improved with relatively minor investment - more masts in rural areas, etc.

Some might disagree, but i think the current airwaves works quite well... there are alot of features that aren't used but could be, for example northern have a system for sending images to handsets so they can send pictures of missing children to all officers in the division which is a good idea.. the problem being not everyone uses all the potential features, like the images, effectively.

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Administrative Account
Considering how overpriced the current system is, hopefully whatever they get will be better value for money.

Baked bean tins and string?

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Guest
I can see far more useful things for spending money on than creating a totally new airwaves, as according to NPIA airwaves cost was £2.3 billion at 1999 prices excluding handsets and control room upgrades.

Alot of the limitations could be improved with relatively minor investment - more masts in rural areas, etc.

Some might disagree, but i think the current airwaves works quite well... there are alot of features that aren't used but could be, for example northern have a system for sending images to handsets so they can send pictures of missing children to all officers in the division which is a good idea.. the problem being not everyone uses all the potential features, like the images, effectively.

When you think about it though - £2.3 billion for a radio system that often cuts out in buildings, doesn't even support picture messaging in most areas (I didn't know Northern had that), and costs more money just to transmit - is that really value for money?

When I joined we had radios that were switched on just by turning the volume dial up. They weren't exactly perfect but they did what they said on the tin. Bearing in mind what technology most of us carry around in our pockets, and the fact that many officers now also carry Blackberries and MDTs (sometimes both!), I don't feel such huge expense is justified.

I appreciate they need to use a secure network, and that costs money, but having a radio that simply works and is capable of receiving picture messages (so we can see if known nominals are the person stood in front of us) is basic technology that has been around years. There really is no need for it to cost billions.

Baked bean tins and string?

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HampshireSaint

Airwave is good at what it does. It is just a complete rip off. If you look up the figures of how much they charge just to transmit you will be shocked.

If the government built and owned their own Tetra network it would have been a lot cheaper to run.

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Marty McFly1546081284
When you think about it though - £2.3 billion for a radio system that often cuts out in buildings, doesn't even support picture messaging in most areas (I didn't know Northern had that), and costs more money just to transmit - is that really value for money?

When I joined we had radios that were switched on just by turning the volume dial up. They weren't exactly perfect but they did what they said on the tin. Bearing in mind what technology most of us carry around in our pockets, and the fact that many officers now also carry Blackberries and MDTs (sometimes both!), I don't feel such huge expense is justified.

I appreciate they need to use a secure network, and that costs money, but having a radio that simply works and is capable of receiving picture messages (so we can see if known nominals are the person stood in front of us) is basic technology that has been around years. There really is no need for it to cost billions.

The picture messaging is down to the force though... we use the exact same handset as northern and we don't get picture messages, because we don't have that feature enabled as you have to pay for it.

I doubt that a new contract for the current system would cost anywhere near that today - all the infrastructure is in place, etc. and forces would be able to negotiate a very reasonable deal considering the cost of constructing a nationwide network from scratch is no longer included.

In today's terms it's 3.17 billion quid if a new system costs the same as the last one, and i just don't see what tangible benefits would be convincing enough to justify that spend.

If you look at the benefits the last one provided over the previous - it can be used as a phone, it can theoretically used to send pictures, it's encrypted so no one, including criminals, can listen to it, digital transmissions are much clearer, etc. you can see the cost justification... I just can't see the cost justification for the new one unless it's something particularly amazing like a handheld version of an MDT that you can conduct PNC checks on, take and send pictures, etc and offers something truly revolutionary rather than evolutionary

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Whirlybird1546081382

There is nothing around at the moment which will do the job better, Tetra still has another 10 years life in it.

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Guest
The picture messaging is down to the force though... we use the exact same handset as northern and we don't get picture messages, because we don't have that feature enabled as you have to pay for it.

I doubt that a new contract for the current system would cost anywhere near that today - all the infrastructure is in place, etc. and forces would be able to negotiate a very reasonable deal considering the cost of constructing a nationwide network from scratch is no longer included.

In today's terms it's 3.17 billion quid if a new system costs the same as the last one, and i just don't see what tangible benefits would be convincing enough to justify that spend.

If you look at the benefits the last one provided over the previous - it can be used as a phone, it can theoretically used to send pictures, it's encrypted so no one, including criminals, can listen to it, digital transmissions are much clearer, etc. you can see the cost justification... I just can't see the cost justification for the new one unless it's something particularly amazing like a handheld version of an MDT that you can conduct PNC checks on, take and send pictures, etc and offers something truly revolutionary rather than evolutionary

Well if they can negotiate a lower cost that includes all of the features it is capable of then that's a good thing I agree. For £2.3 billion it's unbelievable that that cost didn't even include even transmitting from the handset. Where I'm based I don't use my radio as a phone as I have a force issued mobile for that - I would rather use that as it means I can hear what's going on over the radio at the same time. From my working perspective, the only differences between my old old radio and the airwave is that I send a text for certain things like attaching to a callsign, and the audio is clearer (although there was never any difficulty understanding what was being said on the old radios).

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GoneForgotten

Building an entirely new infrastructure platform in the form of a cellular network is a big job and costs lots of money. £2.3 Billion is alot of money but someone has had to install transmitters, cell sites, routing equipment, it's an entire mobile network and sometimes you do have to take the hit for big infrastructure projects. Now if the implementation lacks the technology underpinning it is sound. My experience of TETRA is not that bad and the previous technology is very much seen through rose tinted glasses. I'm not saying that the public sector isn't pretty crap at negotiating value for money but that TETRA isn't bad technology and Airwave actually has the potential to be very good.

There are other upsides, almost every single major incident review in London (where at least 25% of the countries emergency service workers are based) the integration between command and control between Fire & Rescue, LAS and Police (Met, BTP, City, MOD) has been sited as a major issue which has cost lives. The level of integration achievable with TETRA is very good and if it weren't TETRA, what else would it be?

If you want to have secure communication, which supports data, intelligent handsets, countrywide integration, GPS for which there are good arguments for then you've got to spend the money. You could probably spend less but I bet it's not a huge amount less, like, say, half.

...and as people often say, what's the most important piece of kit? Do you expect to penny pinch on it?

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BlueLight85

I've yet to find a custody suite my radio works in. It's like the walls are lined with lead.

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Marty McFly1546081284
Well if they can negotiate a lower cost that includes all of the features it is capable of then that's a good thing I agree. For £2.3 billion it's unbelievable that that cost didn't even include even transmitting from the handset. Where I'm based I don't use my radio as a phone as I have a force issued mobile for that - I would rather use that as it means I can hear what's going on over the radio at the same time. From my working perspective, the only differences between my old old radio and the airwave is that I send a text for certain things like attaching to a callsign, and the audio is clearer (although there was never any difficulty understanding what was being said on the old radios).

Well i'm only speculating as i don't have access to the contract obviously, but i'm presuming it's something like a monthly mobile phone contract in that there is an initial outlay for the handset which covers part of the cost, then the rest of the cost for a handset is passed on through increased prices for data, minutes etc.

Sim only contracts are inevitably much cheaper than the pay monthly rates with a phone because there is no handset to pay for. In airwaves the construction of the nationwide network is like the handset, so when you don't have that to pay for that then you will get cheaper usage rates as well.

This seems to make sense to me as troy tempest says 2.3 billion for what we got is very reasonable to me, and i speculate that it cost more and that cost was passed on through inflated usage rates like with mobile phones.

Of course there is other things than constructing the network that were included last time that will also be included this time - repairs, wastage, etc. that will need to be accounted for, but i think increasing the number of transmitters and enabling full functionality in terms of picture messaging, etc. There is also other features that can be used - maps can be used on current motorolas at least (I don't believe it's navigation, but at least a static map can) as northern also use that.

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andi

It has its flaws, patchy coverage being the most major, but when you stop and look at it, it's actually a bloody good system I think.

I'd be interested to see what other countries are using, I'd have a guess that most of them won't be using a system with as high capability.

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GoneForgotten

At least 114 countries run TETRA systems of some description.

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Marty McFly1546081284

The article states that the US is leading the way in digital systems, the only reason is because they have been so far behind for so long as most departments still use analog or did until recently, and some of those who have transitioned to digital systems before now like LVMPD who are actually mentioned in the article had systems which are described as complete failures - LVMPD dropped their "Desert Sky" system after just two years because it was that bad.

It's only recently that statewide systems are coming into play in some places and even then in one state, it's taken since 2000 to implement and it still hasn't been put in place as the completion date was knocked back from 2011 to this year.

So all in all, airwaves is actually pretty decent all things considered.

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