back to article Extension to blue light services' Airwave network is on the cards

The Home Office has already worked out the cost of extending Blighty's radio-based emergency services network, in the increasingly-likely scenario that a move to ubiquitous 4G coverage cannot be delivered by 2020. The £2.9bn digital radio communications Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) supplied by Airwave is currently due to …

I'm still struggling with getting my head round the concept that the blue light services are even considering using a public, commercial network for their comms.

If they are now thinking around the middle of the next decade for completion will 4G not be rather obsolete by then and in danger of being switched off within a few years?

And will a commercial network ever have coverage into all the nooks and crannies around the country where emeregency services need to operate?

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Bronze badge

It is being considered for use because the people who looking at the replacement don't use/rely on it to save their life (directly, it may be used by others to save their lives).

There are already issues with blackspots with Airwave, let alone a 2/3/4g service as many are aware.

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FAIL

Errmmm... no.

And will a commercial network ever have coverage into all the nooks and crannies around the country where emeregency services need to operate?

No. We have a home on Skye* where there is no 3G or 4G mobile coverage at all, just a very thin scattering of 2G masts near population centres (and 14 TETRA masts for Airwave) but most of the island has no coverage whatsoever.

But a mobile phone is still useful... after all, you have to throw something at the seagulls when they try to nick your sandwiches...

* This inept fantasy "solution" to the Airwave switch-off, dreamed up by the Home Office, is being foisted on to 44 forces, including Police Scotland, although the Scottish Government is going to have to foot part of the cost.

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Private Sector Efficiency!!!!

Yeah, right.

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Who said the network will be public! It will use 4G so that equipment does not need to be custom designed. A bit like what the railways have done using GSM on a different frequency.

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Who said the network will be public!

Trouble is that if it is a completely separate network the possibility of achieving much (if any) "economy of scale" tends to zero.

Furthermore If they are now thinking around the middle of the next decade for completion will 4G not be rather obsolete by then and in danger of being switched off within a few years? has a ghastly ring of truth to it.

I had grave reservations about this plan when I first heard about it and nothing I have heard since has given me any reason to amend that view.

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4G? Don't hold your breath

Airwave is an encrypted service with over the air re-keying (changing the encryption key)

This is a trunked service, is both secure and resilient and it allows multiple agencies integrated communications through a nationwide network. It is a secure digital, encrypted network and can be used for voice and data transmission. The radios have a large number of talkgroups (closed groups where you can talk to others in your own talkgroup) and they need programming to give you the Talkgroups you need.

The radios are nothing like mobile phones, they are on for extended shifts and current mobile phones don't achieve that kind of battery life. They are in permanent listen mode and operate on press to talk (like a walkie talkie). They also have an emergency button.

So it will all need custom design. The radios are ruggedised and a search for TETRA handsets will give an idea of how they look and function.

It might be possible to use 4G as the radio network bearer, but they would need to replicate how this currently works (trunking and talkgroups) and everything else has to be redesigned or replaced. Costs= astronomical, say personal radios are say £700; vehicle radios ~ £2000. The radios are personal issue so a force or division of 2000 people = £1,400,000; say they have 300 vehicles = £600,000 total = £2million. (I have no real idea of the current costs)

Also every control room has to be upgraded. Those rooms that are using proprietary hardware can only go to their supplier for the kit they need (or completely change it out). Those that are using off the shelf kit, the interface and software will need changing.

For all of this, there will be tenders and contracts, plus a changeover of the live and working service.

Where are the Emergency Services going to magic up that kind of money?

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M7S

A downside of airwave

is that it is extremely expensive, and has effectively cut off many of the smaller auxiliary services from integrating with other emergency services.

The handsets are very expensive and the airwave contract was set up so that you are charged for the number of days in a month, multiplied by your heaviest day of usage so if, for example, the Red Cross or St. John Ambulance have a busy weekend for their volunteers once a month, that cost is paid for every single day of that calendar month. I understand that if you want to do work for the statutory services as a backup to them, you have to travel (possibly quite some distance given the regionalisation of management) at the start of a duty, collect one of the few airwave sets, and then return it at the end of the shift. Also many of the "jobs" are now sent and acknowledged by the text function, with status updates using the same system. If you're not using it frequently then this knowledge can fade rapidly, and some of the operators in the control room I have liaised with get quite shirty if you want to actually use voice over airwave as this is not regular for them.

I am aware of a number of smaller services that have simply given up and stuck with their own VHF/UHF but where co-operation is required, generally the statutory services cannot locally implement the Emergency Reserve Channel/Inter Agency Communications that was identified as a need and implemented after various London bombings in the days when the IRA were still regularly banging away. One of these days its going to be a problem.

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