May 31st, 2010

Airwave ripoff?

Posted in The Job - Comment by 200

I was talking the other day to someone with a special interest in the Airwave Radio System which is the current communications system used by the police in the UK.

Previously, for many years, we used a system of VHF&   UHF for our radios. This was subject to problems of clarity as the signal can be affected by various things also anyone with a tuner could listen in.

The new system is securely encrypted &  is based on mobile phone technology.

It was lauded as the antidote to the poor quality of VHF with exceptional clarity  & clear coverage almost everywhere. The reality was somewhat different from the hype; it is also subject to interference & bad reception. It doesn’t like buildings with lots of metal in the roof so we often lose coverage in shopping centres &  hospitals  & officers frequently sound like darleks or as if their radio has been dropped in a bucket of water.

The airwave project runs on the O2 infrastructure. O2, being a commercial outfit, need to make money from the deal. And they do, quite a lot.

Radio coverage is key to an awful lot of police work, particularly the front line work. We use our radios all the time.

Anyway, back to my conversation. The guy who knows about these things told something about the way we pay for our radio coverage. Rather than negotiating a deal much like the mobile phone contracts where you work out what kind of usage you’ll need, as a maximum pay a set fee, we’ve opted for ‘pay-as-you-go’. So every time someone presses the transmit button it costs the tax-payer a pence-per-minute charge. It’s also based on the number of aerials used in the radio transmission. So in a small town the signal might bounce off 2 or 3 O2 radio masts costing, say, 10 pence a minute (note: I have no idea of the actual charges). In a bigger town, the signal might use 6 or 7 masts, costing, say, 16 pence per minute.

If a police unit goes out of their area & uses the radio it will bounce the signal all the way back across several towns, lighting up even more masts & costing even more for the same transmission. It’s even worse if a unit goes into a different force area or maybe to a different part of the country; the signal gets bounced across every mast between them &  their home station, costing loads. And it’s even worse because the unit doesn’t even have to transmit to add big the per minute charges, if their radio is just tuned in to their local radio channel, every time they hear someone talking back home that radio signal has been bounced from their home aerials all the way a across the country to their radio aerials make extra pence per minute for O2.

I can’t, for the life of me, fathom out why the people that brokered the project could think this was a good deal.

I don’t know how much truth there is in it but I was also told that each force negotiated their own deal so while one force might be paying 15 pence a minute, another will be paying 12 while another will be paying 17. Its complete madness.

We’re in a state of massive budget cuts with more about to hit. You can bet that there is someone in an office at every police HQ with a spreadsheet  & a calculator working out just how much can be saved if we cut each transmission by just a few seconds, or did away with certain transmissions altogether. Whilst I know there are officers  & controllers who insist on tying up the radio with the ins outs of a cats arse on every transmission & can talk for England, I can’t help but think the only people to suffer, if  & when changes to protocol do come in, will be the poor bloody infantry on the front line, again.

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  1. R.P says:

    We started cost cutting just after the first Airwave bill came in about 5 years ago. They realised that at the rate we were going we could quite easily bankrupt ourselves.
    We now use hot keys to transmit certain messages that don’t change such as “at scene” or “meal break” so nobody needs to talk and a text message is sent instead.
    Airwave is an expensive system but much much better than the old radios used to be. Shame it has to be quite so expensive.

    June 1st, 2010 at 10:55

  2. David W says:

    My understanding is that Airwave runs on an infrastructure managed by O2, but it’s not the same as the O2 network.

    June 1st, 2010 at 14:22

  3. shijuro says:

    A lot is down to the crap we have to update now… Remember old radio training? A.B.C.?

    Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity….

    Especially for: domestic or racist dispute or violence; there is a massive write-off page with every question except ‘what star sign are they?’.

    Perhaps we could radio message: ‘Leaving scene, report to follow’.

    However, that may be a problem for the monday morning post-mortem people… They love their weekend stats…

    June 1st, 2010 at 16:01

  4. Civ_In_The_City says:

    There`s a charge for every PNC check as well, important when the ANPR system might send hundreds of checks an hour. Some enwuiries are more expensive than others so costs have been reduced.

    Some providers actually give a discount to the police because we are a non-profit making and law enforcement agency (some of the time).

    Often as not the police are seen by big companies as a massive cash cow to be milked dry – as though nobody cares because it`s just public money.

    I think the Airwave network, and the National computer network, and mobile phone calls, should be free to the police – or at least heavily subsidised by government and/or suppliers of the services.

    Then we`d have some spare cash to pay for all the interpreters.

    June 1st, 2010 at 19:17

  5. Blueknight says:

    …we now use hot keys to transmit certain messages that don’t change such as “at scene” or “meal break” so nobody needs to talk and a text message is sent instead….
    In the 1970s the cars were fitted with Coded Tone Generators which had alphabetical and numerical dials. You set the dials to your call sign, ZV 01 for instance and your duty state, 01, 04, 05 etc and pressed the button to book on, go on refs or engage in a job.
    Every job had its own state code so the controller knew what you were doing, even if he/she didn’t know where you were doing it.
    When you were sent to a job, you just needed to press the arrive button, which saved having to queue up to say that you were there.
    Every few years the wheel is reinvented

    June 1st, 2010 at 21:50

  6. anon says:

    Maybe we could get a refund for each time we press to transmit and it doesn’t work due to ‘no coverage’ or ‘no service’!

    June 1st, 2010 at 22:29

  7. met east london says:

    New Labour gimmick that didnt add up like new labour. What idot ok\s a radio that has to be 1.3m above ground to work(got that from the NCALT training)Never thought i\d say it but bring back METRADIO and most definately the local CAD rooms!!!!!!!!

    June 1st, 2010 at 22:44

  8. A says:

    met east london – sorry labour ain’t to blame about it, the projects and contracts were exchanged in the early 90′s…if not the late 80′s, I think Lancs went live in 2001?

    Interoperability? Ha! Just means Staffs shout up and pester us to resource the jobs close to their border – I can remember happy days when the two radio systems were completely incompatible.

    The call charges are baffling though – in our first year O2 doubled the price, whats to stop them doing the same soon? Scary times…perhaps well just go out with a mobile phone.

    June 2nd, 2010 at 16:18

  9. Nick says:

    The charges your describe a down to the “way” in which you use the radio system. Most Police forces use “Group Call” methodology which transmits the messages to any hanheld within that particular talkgroup. If a handset is, geographically, further away from the other handsets in the talkgroup then this can get very, very, expensive.

    For anyone interested, take a look at how the North West Ambulance Service have made use of “Point to Point” calls as standard, this is a much cheaper option as the transmission is only sent between two handhelds and not the whole talkgroup.

    Please note, this is only a very basic overview and i’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the OP’s comments.


    June 22nd, 2010 at 15:17

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