The police and emergency services are continuing to breathe life into the controversial Tetra Airwave radio system, with the NHS ambulance trusts confirming plans to begin deploying 18,000 Tetra radio terminals within weeks.
The roll-out, which should be completed by September 2008, will involve all NHS ambulance trusts working with Tetra service provider Sepura to deploy the terminals. Once completed, the project will represent the largest single deployment of Tetra radios in the world to emergency-response users.
Tetra has until recently been viewed with suspicion by many emergency-response agencies, with the Police Federation and Fire Brigades Union in particular voicing strong concerns about the safety and costs of the technology.
However, after a slow start, Tetra is now being deployed at a rapid pace, buoyed by several positive independent reviews of the technology.
The deal with NHS ambulance trusts follows the signing last year of a 13-year, £390m contract between the Department of Health and Airwave for a new digital radio and communications system.
Under the contract, the system will be installed in a wide range of vehicles, including rapid response cars and motorcycles, as well as ambulances.
Health minister Lord Warner said, "Digital technology means a more secure system, with less interference and improved interoperability between trusts and the other emergency services. The new digital equipment will provide a more reliable service and help bring further improvements to patient care."
British Transport Police gave 400 officers Airwave-based handheld devices at the end of last year, and it has begun using the system to transmit data to locations that do not have mobile phone network access, such as the London Underground.
British Transport Police CIO Andrew Watson said Airwave had so far been "a stunning success", adding that the special coverage it offered was crucial. "Where police officers have to go, they must be able to be in contact with a control room," he said.
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