Green light for digital police radio

The Home Office and British Telecom are pressing ahead with the £2.9bn rollout of the Airwave digital radio service to every...

The Home Office and British Telecom are pressing ahead with the £2.9bn rollout of the Airwave digital radio service to every police force in the UK despite technical difficulties during trials, which have just ended.

A three-month pilot by Lancashire police was extended to six months after problems with voice clarity and coverage occurred.

Lancashire Constabulary told CW360 that a fix list of "30-odd" problems had been drawn up during the trial.

"In some geographical areas there were cases of calls being dropped as well as the appearance of screeching sounds - called 'spiking' - and 'metal Mickey' voice distortion. BT and Motorola are now working to sort them out," a police spokeswoman said.

The Airwave system's Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) digital handsets have also caused fears over health risks to officers using them.

The Police Federation has called for more research into these risks. Guidelines suggest that wavebands above 16Hz should be avoided, but the Airwave handsets operate at 17.6Hz.

However, the Police IT Organisation (PITO) - the Home Office's national police IT coordinating body - has insisted that the figure of 16Hz is merely a guideline and that the handsets are safe.

Greater Manchester Police will be the next force to take up Airwave. Every force in the UK is expected to be using the system by 2005, when the government will withdraw existing police radio frequencies.

Lancashire Police said they are already experiencing the benefit of the new radio voice and data service.

Encryption means that, for the first time, police have secure transmissions and sound clarity, and coverage is generally better than the old systems.

"Officers who in the past had to radio to their base and request a check on the Police National Computer and then wait for the information can now do it direct on their handsets," said the Lancashire police spokeswoman. "It allows officers to be more efficient and time-effective and will result in more officers being visible on the streets."

BT is responsible for building and managing the national service throughout its 15-year, £2.9bn contract, with Motorola the main sub-contractor for the supply of Tetra digital system infrastructure.

BT Quadrant general manager Jeff Parris said: "We're delighted that the Lancashire trial has measured up to our expectations. We look forward to progressing with the roll-out to deliver a world-class service to Britain's police and public safety organisations."

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