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TETRA: can it work as promised? Data, Part 2


What it said on the tin

Airwave was designed to be a secure encrypted radio system to solve problems with police analogue network. It was supposed to allow links to government databases, eg DVLA and the police National Computer. Airwave would provide police with a secure voice network and put the bobby back on the beat, by freeing officers from accessing and inputting data at the station. Police could file details on arrests and incidents from squad cars that were effectively mobile police stations equipped with latest technology.

Did anyone notice that O2 still presents its orginal claims for Airwave to parliament and MPs? Most recently to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mobile Phones!

What it has delivered?

There is widespread concerns among experts involved with the Airwave network about the capability of the system for transmitting data. According to network engineers fundamental problems with the technology mean the system is currently incapable of delivering the data vision sold to chief constables in 1996.

One technician claims that we can send a roughly recognisable passport-sized picture, but it is very slow. He claims bandwidth problems are affecting the system and staff are using specialist equipment such as multiplexes to maximise bandwidth – a claim that PITO denies:

‘due to demands on the system for voice traffic, data transmission has come a poor second’ he says. ‘If people want a report from the police national computer, they will have to wait for it. If a 999 call comes in, it will override that data request, so it will have to be made again’, said the technician.

 Actually that is not the problem at all. It’s like saying I’m too busy to be a striker for the England team!

Some insiders say there is talk of PITO and O2 offering either an improved package that will involve more masts, or a GPRS add-on to the current system. Some forces in north of England are rumoured to be using mobile number-plate readers based on GPRS to provide a service Airwave was supposed to deliver. Other forces are working with a number of suppliers for their data needs. In some areas, Airwave is still struggling to provide voice communication between forces:

‘We’re working on different software issues at the moment. We can’t talk to police in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire’ said one officer in Suffolk.

Gordon Wasserman, then head of IT in the Thatcher government was responsible for commissioning the system:

‘In the late 1980s there was an enormous frequency shake out, and it became clear we had to buy new radios’, he said. ‘One of the things we were very keen on was a data capability in cars. The aim was that the system should have a bandwidth to handle that data. So there was no doubt about it – a data requirement was part of the bid.’

If you hear how Airwave is helping ambulances, be clear: no ambulance will arrive (more) on time as a result of Airwave rather than existing radio systems. If they hook up diagnostic systems, it isn’t the capability of Airwave, but Internet Protocol (IP): linking personal data assistants (PDAs) to the same Internet as you are now using. Why struggle with Airwave when existing technology is so much better, cheaper and available?

Airwave is the most expensive radio system in the world. Who is going to pay to get round all the things it won’t do? Yup. You and me.

From the Netherlands: C2000 Tetra Network

From recent contact with the Dutch Police Officers (March 2004), the Tetra network in the area of Amsterdam is in a strict pilot phase. Due to multipath interferences, software instability, hieratic black-out on the network varying from 40 minutes to 8 hours, the TETRA radios are not used in nominal mode. The old legacy system is remaining the primary radio network.

It was reported that Police Officers refused to use the radio because of health concerns. The emergency services (Fire Brigades and Ambulances did some trials but are not using it for mission critical operations).

Motorola recently extended the roll-out of some more base stations, but the all network does not yet cover the Netherlands. Motorola offered to implement a new software release but the Dutch Government refused to pay.

Tetrapol handset
Example of Tetrapol handset. Why not choose something that works for less money?
Read more about Tetrapol as an alternative.

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