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How we have been misled: an O2 fact file


July 2005.

The Airwave network, we are told, is complete. Open for business and for over 100 other user agencies, should they wish to join in. The Department of Health has brought the Ambulance trusts in, and Autumn 2005 will see where the Firelink contract goes.

The planning issue is no longer the main part of the problem. The disreputable conduct of Airwave and particular employees will go down in legend. Meanwhile a substantial number of temporary, illegal and unsatisfactory masts remain, plus quite a few in legal dispute or still to be built.

But back in March, this is what Jeff Parris, V-P of mmO2 Airwave had to say:

‘Any additional base stations to meet that extra coverage [Firelink] — is absolutely untrue. Any additional base stations will be incredibly small in numbers [less than ten].’

‘Airwave covers 90% of the geography, so it’s an order of magnitude better in terms of coverage than a typical cellular service.’

So, there are more than enough masts (according to Parris, to ‘cover the barn on the remote farm in Wales as well’). Remember that. No more than ten at most if everyone piles in to use Airwave (Defence, Highways, Coastguard etc.)

By way of one example, in July 2005, as Sussex police took on Airwave as the sole communications network, a repeater antenna appeared on a police station that could not get an adequate signal from its nearest mast — 600 metres away.

We have reports that the radios are not robust enough (OK, there are several manufacturers), are poor value for money, that one-to-one conversations get broadcast to all and sundry, that handsets are unreliable below waist height, and that several forces are already buying replacement handsets. We hope that red button works when a police officer needs urgent help and finds themselves in a queue.

And so mmO2 Airwave continues, patching software, inventing the IP portal that will enable data via commercial networks, and trying to fill in those slots in the pulse (yes, we’ve measured the attempts — do they think that might be where the risk lies? After all mmO2 Airwave did promise ‘non-pulsing TETRA’ to Scotland in 2004.)

Tetrawatch also reports seeing officers in cars using TETRA handsets without external antennae. Surely an absolute no-no. More training is plainly needed.

And here, for the record, is the sorry tale of how mmO2 Airwave got to this point:

Familiar practices in erecting TETRA masts
(learned in part from the mobile phone industry in general)

Perhaps you can add to this selection? We are sure you will find them all too familiar. You have more? Do let us know.

 Draw up a map for consultation with County Planners. Scale, orientation, and features won’t matter. Stick big dots on for proposed masts (dots about half a mile wide should do). Don’t bother with place names, the coloured dots and crosses will be sure to impress (WH Smith do a good range in sticky shapes).

 Show your rollout plans to County planners, then take them home with you so they can’t remember.

 Have annual rollout meetings, but don’t let on that’s what they are, and don’t take minutes. Then during appeals you can claim that what was said was not said, and what was not said, was.

 Employ agents to find mast sites around the country where landowners are dysfunctional, anti-social, selfish, bull-headed and influenced by money, drink or the need for solitude and remote from social contact. These are the best option because they will not be influenced by local opinion.

 Turn masts on as soon as possible. Maximum impact on local communities who might oppose you, if their health is not affected, is the key. Residents with headaches are subdued. Make sure they are.

 Put your masts up at night, hoping no-one will notice.

 Put in planning applications for as many masts as you can. Then when some of them are refused, and refused on appeal, and refused on judicial review, you still have more than enough to go round.

 Put up masts before applying for planning permission. When challenged, claim emergency powers, temporary status and national interest, where none of these factors are valid. If absolutely essential, apologise, saying that it is necessary in very rare circumstances to take such action and it has not happened before, in the previous 200 cases, which are conveniently forgotten, hoping that the authorities are too naïve to check.

 When unlawful masts are found, ignore Enforcement Orders and Stop Notices. Continue with the development and claim that the concreted structure is only there for ‘testing’. Never remove a mast unless it has fallen down.

 Claim the Official Secrets Act so you don’t have to show Airwave sites on the Ofcom Sitefinder website within the specified timescale.

 Claim the Official Secrets Act so you don’t have to tell Councils exactly where you are planning to erect your base stations.

 Hide behind the Mobile Phone Operators’ Ten Commitments. Imply that it makes a real difference, when you have not actually signed up to them directly anyway.

 Make sure that as many masts as possible on Sitefinder are listed as GSM, despite the declared frequency, which is unique to TETRA.

 Tell anyone you meet for the first time, (MPs, Councillors etc.) that there have been no more than 2 sticky applications anywhere else in the country. Don’t be put off when MPs laugh at this.

 Claim that counties and countries have got fully rolled-out, operating networks, when all you have done is sent a leaflet to a single address in that country or county, telling them about TETRA. If in doubt, send a pair of free sample handsets to establish a network.

 Don’t talk to residents querying contractors; it’s a secret. Then write ‘Airwave’ on the fence and pretend it isn’t.

 If the law gets in the way, flout it. If a bridleway is the only means of access to a mast site and access has not been negotiated, use the bridleway. The law is only for the proletariat, not O2.

 Use words carefully. Using words that mean the same to both user and receiver are dangerous. Make the assumption that most people hear what they want to hear. If you are told to remove a mast, tell the authority that you are ‘willing’ to remove it. Don’t say you will. You might have to.

 If protesters block your illegal access, use a helicopter. Everyone loves an airshow, and if it wipes the profit margin, never mind, guess who’s paying in the long run.

 If people complain of effects from TETRA, invent another one ‘down the road’ that obviously isn’t affecting them.

 Reassure your concerned public by telling them that the safety of your equipment is nothing to do with you.

 ‘Better communications will improve policing’ is a good non sequitur to use. Better police produces better policing, but don’t suggest that.

 If people object to a planning application, and take you to appeal, just put in another application for the same mast in the same place.

 Put up a temporary mast. Then leave it there until someone notices. Then put it on the Sitefinder database so it look permanent.

 When told to remove a mast erected without consent or planning permission, claim emergency powers.

 When told to switch off such a mast by a certain date, just say you have and hope no-one can tell.

 When asked again to switch such a mast off, do the same, and say you’ve switched it off twice. That should be better.

 When people object to night-time work by engineers, tell them you haven’t got a mast there at all. If locals persist, tell them publicly, on the radio if possible, that they imagined it.

 Refuse to tell anyone where masts are in case of terrorist activity. Make the masts as visible as possible so they can be easily seen. This is the double/double bluff ploy. If they are visible they are obviously not there and therefore not a target. Compound the lie by applying for planning permission for as many masts as possible in sensitive areas to attract maximum publicity. These are obviously not the real masts. The real ones are the ones people do not know about. For positive stealth, do not apply for planning permission.

 If you’ve got a problem with a mast and people ask why their television interference has stopped, tell them the TV transmitter must have been turned up instead.

 Tell people masts are not on and will not be switched on, when measurements indicate that they are already on. Never assume that the locals are as clever as you, or know what is going on. Allow spokesmen to suggest such things as ‘the Welsh are thick’, at a meeting in Wales.

 Never believe that you will be found out. But if you are found out, lie, keep lying and lie again. Nobody believes a little lie, but big ones will eventually overwhelm incredulity. Goebbels knew this, and he must be a guiding light because look how successful he was.

 Deny that TETRA is to blame for TV interference and add that anyway, even if your TV was there first and working satisfactorily for 20 years without modification, it is your responsibility to buy new equipment that is compatible with theirs.

 If your immobiliser on your car is giving problems, you must replace it in case it interferes with TETRA.

 Can’t get a mast where you want? Tell the landowners that of course you can’t promise to police their areas unless they give in; they might be in danger without your mast.

 If you are asked to re-site a mast, make a song and dance about community consultation and the time it takes. Well, you have to make up for the lack of consultation first time round somehow, don’t you?

 If offered other suitable sites, do everything you can to show how impossible anything other than your first choice would be. It will save money. These masts are expensive, you know.

 Never offer to indemnify a landowner or council against future claims resulting from TETRA. You might have to pay out and you want the Government to use the £140 Million allocated for this purpose.

 Never be persuaded to build a mast in the best position if it does not have existing electricity supplies and telephone access.

 Make sure you have a contract with a landowner before you apply for planning permission, so that the local opposition generated against the landowner is a thorn in his side and he cannot back down.

 Get masts up where nobody else can, so that you can get other mobile phone companies to pay you rent to be on your new mast, in an area where they previously failed to get permission.

 Need more masts? Push them through the planning process by claiming they are ‘the last piece of the jigsaw’. Well, there are a lot of last pieces to a jigsaw after you’ve started to put it together. Make the assumption that neighbouring District Councils do not talk to each other and make the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ claim for every mast in the network, regardless of location or truth.

 Need to get your money back? Tell the police authority the network is complete (except for the last piece of the jigsaw), so they accept it and start paying for your network (even though they can’t really use it).

 Make sure that you annoy as many people as possible: be arrogant; be disdainful; be dismissive and act without respect for anyone. Use spokesmen who have no conscience or morals and who regard truth as an inconvenience. Be sexist where possible and use every opportunity to avoid contact with people and to annoy journalists. All publicity is going to be bad, so make the most of it and make it worse.

 And of course, all those annoying adverse effects that people keep going on about ... All they need is a good bit of education, and they will be fine.

PS: everything in this page has occurred; each item has its own real-life story. With apologies to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘traffic light model for public consultation’!

 More: classic quotes from Airwave

A statement from the chairman. We just need to be educated. And O2 needs less regulation...

Letters exchanged with O2 Airwave and mmO2 in Sussex. (A tiny selection of a huge amount of unvarying correspondence.)

O2 Airwave at large in the UK

back back

TETRA, Reynolds Building, Bognor
TETRA on Reynolds Building, Bognor Regis. O2 Airwave refused to co-operate in its removal, lied about switching it off and continued to use the site as the distrct switch.

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