back to article Police radios will be KILLED soon – yet no one dares say 'Huawei'

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 …

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Lose the full value of its investment or launch a PR campaign

"Airwave doesn’t have much room to move as Macquarie ultimately has shareholders to service."

Uh hun, so Airwave has to charge a lot to keep Macquarie shareholders happy.

And how happy will those Macquarie shareholders be when their purchase looses all its value due to being priced out of the market?

Of course Macquarie does have an alternative: Have Airwave launch a PR campaign explaining/claiming there is no viable alternative.

APs taking seconds to load?

On specialist devices APs would take as long to load as they're designed to.

Powerfailures affecting 4G in other parts of the world?

Other parts of the world have learned from this and have upgraded UPS requirements and physical durability requirements for transceivers and towers.

And then the emergency comms are available for everyone with an emergency, not just government employees.

iPhones falling apart minutes after you hand them to a copper?

Contruction industry has the same issue.

If the stock models aren't rugged enough you can ruggedized anything to proper military standards.

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Huawei only supplier?

Hmm... I thought EADS (that bought most of TETRA stuff from other companies (for example Nokia) had something similar. Perhaps it never saw light of day past its announcement.

Ah here we go, it was Cassidian (Alcatel-Lucent)

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Joke

Re: Huawei only supplier?

"Ah here we go, it was Cassidian (Alcatel-Lucent)"

And according to Wikipedia, EADS Cassidian Airbus Defence and Space / Motorola seem to have done most of the Tetra installations in Huawei's back yard. Maybe the Chinese government don't trust Huawei either?

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Anonymous Coward

seriously?

sure 4G for data apps but let's retain the VHF/UHF for emergency audio.

u just cannot count - life or death - on a 4G solution in a September 11 level event....

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Sounds like someone

wrote the spec for this comms kit after watching "Aliens". (And we all know how well that turned out).

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Huawei

Why not buy Chinese kit? The Chinese honed the design by controlling their own population, sort of like buying equipment from a specialist supplier.

GCHQ should be able to reverse engineer out any backdoors in the pile of circuits and firmware, if they can't what is their reason for existence? Might as well just buy the spy data from NSA if GCHQ is dodders that much and throw the savings from firing GCHQ at... at... well, at something that Brits are still good at doing. There must be something.... anyone?

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Re: Huawei

"GCHQ should be able to reverse engineer out any backdoors in the pile of circuits and firmware, if they can't what is their reason for existence?"

Indeed. In almost any other context, commentards would be repeating the mantra that physical access trumps all security, so it should be impossible for Huawei to include a back door without us noticing.

I suspect the real reason for the scare stories about Huawei is that they are now making stuff that is good enough to put Western suppliers out of business. It's protectionism masquarading as security, and it makes it less likely that we'll believe the real security issues when they come up.

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Re: Huawei

>I suspect the real reason for the scare stories about Huawei is that they are now making stuff that is good enough to put Western suppliers out of business.

It should be remembered that Huawei do have a UK operation, to which GCHQ et al have had full access to for many years now...

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Re: Huawei

"I suspect the real reason for the scare stories about Huawei is that they are now making stuff that is good enough to put Western suppliers out of business"

Having just dropped a bunch of cash (6+ figures) on deploying a bunch of Huawei kit, I believe your analysis is entirely accurate.

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Two points...

I have two points to make:

1) Do the walky talkies have any use for data? Does the *replacement* system have any use for data? Does it matter that the data available is only 7.5kbps? That's pretty slow but if the most you get is nothing, or a line or two of text, then it's more than adequate.

2) Phones now have heaps of RAM. Why can't the system start "recording" the moment you push the push-to-talk? I would certainly object to a system where you have to push a button then wait around for 1/2 second or a second or two while it does whatever before talking; on the other hand, I might not even notice if the audio's just being "buffered" a second or two.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two points...

"on the other hand, I might not even notice if the audio's just being "buffered" a second or two."

You will if you're trying to radio your compatriot who you can't see due to smoke but end up hearing since the sound carries through the smoke. As the article notes, a lag echo is just plain psychologically eerie.

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Headmaster

Goddamit!!

I won't go into stylistically dodgy formulation, but please:

Tetra uses 2w ----> Tetra uses 2W

25KHz ----> 25 kHz

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Boffin

Drop in the Ocean

Overhauling emergency commo systems is just one small part of issues that the UK has in relation to Emergency Preparedness and Response.

I work in Emergency Management and the UK really needs to get off its ass in that regard, especially with the Government worrying about the effects of climate change on natural disasters yet making absolutely no public planning as to how to deal with it. There's nothing like NIMS, there's an old version of ICS that the Met Police and I believe City of London use, The UK's idea of Comprehenisve Emergency Management is not fit for purpose if you ask me, which is a shame as your Civil Defense plans were among the best, much better than the halfassed shit that FCDA and OEP had in the US at the time until FEMA was created in 1979 to unify it. Its a shame that Thatcher, Major and Blair all decided to virtually ignore domestic emergency planning aside from anti-terrorism, the UK could still be setting the standard, and your standards and doctrines from what I've seen (some are still classified) were a fuck of alot better than California's and the Federal Civil Defense Administration's plans, which is what the whole US used and still uses in some forms such as the Incident Command System which came from CALFIRE in the 1970's, though was not adopted as a national policy until 2004. Also, Counter-Terrorism isn't even emergency management, its a Policing, Intelligence, and Military function. Emergency Management deals with what happens after a gas line explodes or a terrorist blows it up and takes out a council estate or a tube station or what have you. But if you're not preparing or mitigating, and have a codified means of preparation and mitigation what's the point of reponse and recovery?

Your Government doesn't even have a standing agency under the Home Office or at Cabinet Level (where it should be) to assist the Prime Minister to handle it, and COBRA hardly counts. COBRA, from my understanding, is basically a half-assed version of our National Watch Center in DC and a non-survivable version of the Mount Weather Special Facility or Raven Rock's C4I centers. All it does is provide a means of the Cabinet Level and executive (in your case the Prime Minister) to assess what's going on and manage from the top, which doesn't work too well. CALFIRE realized this in the 60's when they created the common Incident Command System where the Incident Commander is the most competent person.

What the UK needs is a custom version of NIMS geared toward the UK's hazards. I see stories about the floods and storms every year and people dying from them and the response being somewhat piecemeal and patchwork with noone in overall control on a permanent basis, and none of the responders on the same page. Perhaps adding an extra layer of bureaucracy like a UK style FEMA is a dumb idea, but a framework of incident command and control for the existing agencies to use is a good idea and a UNISDR best practice. If the Developing World can do it (and does do it, the Ebola outbreak's a good example though it has some flaws and heavy handedness from some nations Armed Forces) there is no reason that a common incident management system should not be implemented.

Anyway, on to the subject after the Hurricanes that The Man Who Fell to Earth mentioned, the Cellular systems worked as they were supposed to as long as the base stations survive somewhat. To a user they'd appear to be down and unusable, but to the operator and the government as well as some FOUO (For Official Use Only) users it works normally for voice for the most part unless its LTE and works completely normally. Without LTE you don't usually have a data channel to speak of unless you can con the National Guard into using a Military SATCOM, they don't have to let you use it but you do have voice, and voice is good enough to compile an ICS-209, the datasheet we use for tracking who is doing what and where. The Incident Commanders at the Federal Response Center and National Watch Center engaged the US' equivalent to the MTPAS, but with our systems, we can and do lock out anyone who isn't on a SIM, landline or IMEI which is enabled to use the National Communications System from using most networks. Notably, the TCP/IP, X.25 and Frame Relay networks aren't subject to it aside from some traffic shaping to allow FEMA's teleregistration system and the Air Force's Air Material Command, Army Surface Distribution and Deployment Command, the Military Sealift Command and USTRANSCOM, as well as the Postal Service (yes, the Postal Service, I'm not joking. It sounds weird but there's a major reason for it when we're accounting for the deceased and missing that the NDMS may have missed at DMORT)

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Re: Drop in the Ocean

Facinating post. Wolld mean a lot more to me - and I'm seriously interested - If I knew what all those acronyms were. Hell, I doubt if i'd understand half of that post if it all referred to the uk. Any chance of pointing us on this side of the pond to some further reading?

Got to disagree with you on one point though - Global Warming's a bad example. The politicoes all generally KNOW its crap - but they also know its a good way of extracting pork, and more important frightening and controlling the population. Look at it this way - if your reputation is some significant number of orders of magnituge lower than the type of lice that don't get mentioned in polite company you need all the levers you can get.

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Re: Drop in the Ocean

There is a good (short) article giving an overview of the state of the UK's Emergency Services and related services mobile communications here, albeit it is nearly two years old: http://www.wireless-mag.com/Features/25368/What_are_the_options_for_ESMCP.aspx

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There's an App for that!

As for the shortcomings of using mobile phones data networks there is a simple solution. There's an App for that! Plus the government is forcing the networks to get rid of not spots so that's all sorted then.

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Re: There's an App for that!

If it gets me 4g out in the stix, it'll be great.

(God, sometimes I feel like a broken record! But all I want is 'legal minimum' bandwidth.)

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Not just the Police!

The way you're all talking is that the Police are the only service that needs communications. They are quite primitive in theirs, other than their new penchant for mobile PNC checks, ANPR and other online matters. The big data users are the Ambulance services with their data mobilisation systems, electronic patient report form systems, and telemetry data from their patient monitoring equipment.

The Fire Services can make use of online building mapping, with greater incident information sent to them relating to potential hazards recorded about any given site. Though much of that data could be held offline in the mobile data terminal allowing much faster lookup on-the-fly.

The ESN is due to go live in 2016, BUT that's not all of it, the 700MHz spectrum will be for an exclusive LTE network to cover this sceptred isle, which will be compatible with the networks that are to be built around the world - yes, for once, the plan is a GLOBAL (as much as it can be!) standard for the Emergency Services, such that in the event of a proper disaster, people from one country can arrive in another one, with their own comms kit which will work straight away (roam!) with the ESN in that region.

There's more to this than meets the eye, but the main matter is to get off of Airwave as soon as is practicably possible, it is the millstone around their neck, and something created by the previous government who should have kept it in-house, not farmed out to private organisations / vulture capital companies.

One final couple of shots - the old VHF and UHF networks had much better coverage than even TETRA does, BUT it didn't have the capacity for multiple "conversations", point-to-point calling, and was not secure at all. It was the security issue that sold TETRA to the Home Office, who then forced it on all of the emergency services. Neither the Fire Service, nor the Ambulance services in the UK needed that kind of secure system with the lauded "interoperability", because at no time will a police dispatcher talk to a fire or ambulance crew, or any other combination. It is all done at command level and passed down the chain. And what's more, Fire services still use UHF for BA operations, not TETRA/Airwave. Once again, all about command and control, as well as cost and effectiveness.

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Anonymous Coward

TETRA plus mobe?

TETRA is a good voice radio for the emergency services and the use of a second handset for data has been proven.

In the early days of the Airwave project we got hold of a commercial TETRA radio to get an early test. It even worked on the train down to London, when normal mobile phones lost coverage. Airwave TETRA is a good voice service that works well and has the required features. The single-press emergency button opens the mic and gives the radio interrupt priority back to the control room. So the officer wrestling a 20-stone mental patient quoted above can press the button and shout for help, leaving the radio fastened in its clip.

It's also simple to bring a GPS signal back through the system, providing you bought Airware radios with the GPS module fitted. This can provide the control room with a moving map display of where their people are, and can distinguish them by type and role.

We had this up and working for the G8 conference and the London Tube bombing.

The practice we developed was to equip officers with a second commercial handset that could do data. This gave the officers a tool they could use to run vehicle and person checks themselves, while leaving the all-important Airwave radio attached to their jacket so that it couldn't be knocked out of their hands. Of if things were hairy they could call on the radio for a person or vehicle check - the officer on the spot has the choice.

What Airwave never did, but what it was sold to the government and ACPO as doing, was data. The sales demonstrations showed live streaming video back from the scene of an incident. That got a few Chief Constables salivating and waving chequebooks.

But it is a good voice radio with all the right features for the emergency services.

Airwave also kept working during the London Tube bombing, when the mobile phone network became saturated. There was the option to invoke MTPAS at the time (and I believe it may have been done in one London Borough), but the concensus afterwards was that blocking the public from using mobile phones would have contributed to the panic. So it makes sense to not use 4g or a commercial bearer for crisis comms.

So, continue to use the TETRA network but open it to commercial handsets and offer a second (cheap, off the shelf) smartphone as a sacrificial data terminal?

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Anonymous Coward

Won't someone think of the coverage?

Airwave have got around 99% geographical coverage of the UK with TETRA due to using 400MHz spectrum where propagation is much better than 700MHz any other 4G band. How do they think they'll get the blanket coverage that's required for emergency service communications?

Good luck in them thar hills.....

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Airwave must end in 2022

The spectrum used for Airwave must be returned starting 2020 and no later than 2022 as it was provided by government to Airwave under a contract that must expire in 2022 otherwise it conflicts with EU state aid rules.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Airwave must end in 2022

Not really an issue - without spectrum Airwave is unable to fulfil its contract and hence can be taken back into public ownership as per Railtrack ...

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Nuremberg Code

In 1947 the Allies established the Nuremberg Code, the first international document to support the concept that "the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential" for biological experiments upon human subjects. TETRA is formally a biological experiment which does not end before 2018. Sadly, no consent was obtained, nor were the expected biological hazards pointed out to police officers or staff. Even more sadly, there are now many who have developed cancers of the eye, ear, brain, and body where they attach their TETRA set.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nuremberg Code

Seriously? Like "mobile phones cause cancer"? Got any evidence?

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Re: Nuremberg Code

There are know bio effects attributable to Tetra (hence why you don't put a handset in your shirt pocket or near a pacemaker), but these are to do with the way signal power is handled. It was one of the pro's and con's of adopting Tetra(UK) v. TETRAPOL (as used in many European countries).

As for mass market mobile phones, we still in the trial phase and so there is a (small) possibility that like cigarette smoking we may discover they are in fact dangerous. However, if you are using a WiFi connected device you are exposing yourself to higher levels of radio energy from the WiFi adaptor in that device and for longer than from the GSM phone...

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Re: Nuremberg Code

If there are known biological effects attributable to Tetra specifically, then perhaps you can cite us the peer-reviewed clinical studies that can prove these effects.

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Re: Nuremberg Code

the peer-reviewed clinical studies that can prove these effect

Not everything requires a full blown clinical study...

From memory, during the 90's when TETRA(UK) was being debated and evaluated, medical concerns around radio energy exposure did get a lot of attention and experiments conducted. The risks were assessed and although it was unlikely that emergency services personnel would be wearing pacemakers or have heart problems, guidance was put out to avoid putting handsets in shirt pockets ie. near the heart. Hence why you will see police wearing handsets on the shoulder or on the waist...

Sometimes, the simplest approach isn't to try and disprove something but to work around it, particularly if experts can show there is a possibly of the effects being encountered outside of the lab. (A bit like crossing the road, most of the time you can cross one anywhere, but in generally it is safer to always use a pedestrian crossing.) Given the lack of any subsequent exposé in the media or medical cases being raised by the emergency service's unions, it would seem the advice was sufficient.

Because TETRAPOL has a different radio energy profile, it doesn't have the same potential side effect.

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Anonymous Coward

Radio coverage

The police will require coverage in country areas where ordinary mobile coverage is often poor. Its not worth the cost of an extra mobile base station because the extra number of customers pulled in is far too small to recover the costs of an extra base station.

All providers tend to avoid the same areas for the same reason so switching providers is no help.

Who will pay for the extra base stations needed to give police the coverage they need?

TETRA operates on a much lower frequencies than Mobile which makes achieving a high percentage area coverage easier.

The police will have many operational requirements that ordinary mobiles do not support. Now that our political elite have successfully redesigned the UK electricity system they are ready to move on to new successes in new areas of technology.

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Re: Radio coverage

Not forgetting Helicopters. Mobile base stations are not designed for vertical coverage, only horizontal. Would any mobile operator be willing to re-engineer 9000-18000 cell sites to ensure coverage vertically for data?

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Anonymous Coward

so long as the zombies can say...

"send more paramedics" then what does it matter?

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To alleviate the trolley problem (assuming the disaster event didn't take out the entire infrastructure), having a core network along with a picocell stuffed into a backpack and walked around the disaster area to provide connectivity to those in the immediate disaster area seems logical, while allowing priority access to those with proper credentials on the normal network outside the disaster zone. This is all not to say that 4G is a good idea for replacing Tetra. Here in the States, we're using P25 which has even worse data support but I don't hear of any talks to replace it.

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Boffin

LTE band 31 (450 MHz)?

LTE band 31 (450 MHz) isn't an option in the UK, I presume?

OK, so VoLTE on LTE450 is probably not an option within the timeframe outlined in any case. But it sure sounds like a tempting long-term solution:

- Allows for a theoretical cell radius of 48.9 km. Or, given a land-area of 242kkm2 (UK), 33 towers in the highly overoptimistic, non-overlapping, non-realistic scenario.

- mass-market devices/radios (eventually)

- IP-enabled by default. Build *any* functionality as a networked application. PTT could possibly make use of the camera-button or whatever physical button is available on a rugged mass-market device.

- add priority by way of MTPAS (yeah, yeah, LTE Release 13)

Dag B

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Andromeda - UK based company doing this already!!!

Our company of ex-police officers uses Andromeda AD100-GPS, which uses 3G/4G, and are hugely impressed in comparison to Airwaves which always let us down in our policing roles. Sure, there are some signal areas which aren't quite there yet, but MUCH better than the constant blackspots of Airwave use. And they are extremely cost effective even when compared to closed network radios. Highly recommended and definitely the technology of the future!

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Re: Andromeda - UK based company doing this already!!!

Same here. Have an Andromeda with a multi-network roaming SIM at work. Works great.

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Why not hybrid?

Use a TETRA or other trunked system similar to what is now in use for PTT, group broadcasts, etc. And then add 4G voice/data capability i a different frequency block. The (low) data rate in today's trunked radio should be sufficient to hand off the radio to a broadband connection when needed.

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JMB

I remember talking to some police radio techs just before Airwave took over. They were quite looking forward to getting early retirement because, like so many other industries, the amount of hassle in the job had increased dramatically. But they thought their existing network could have been modernised for a fraction of the cost of Airwave to the police.

The difference was shown during major power outages when the previous radio network had 100% diesel backup and could run for weeks with no mains power.

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