Dial 999 for trunked radio

Dial 999 for trunked radioA vital communications service for the emergency services is all set to go ahead in 1999. The consortium that will implement it is made up of BT, Motorola, Nokia and TRW. Alex Mayhew-Smith reports The Public Safety Radio Communications Project (PSRCP), the new trunked radio service for the UK’s police and emergency services, is on-track for introduction in 1999. Work on the project is being carried out by the Quadrant Consortium, made up of BT, Motorola, Nokia and TRW, which was set up in May 1996. Quadrant’s 15 month project definition study, which the company began before it had been awarded the contract by the government, is due to finish in July this year. The consortium will be officially launching the system to fire, ambulance and police services at a number of system hardware demonstrations arranged for the coming months. In what is seen by many as a one horse race, the government will award the service contract at the end of the year, and Quadrant already has its plans in place for taking on the work. This said, the consortium claims not to be abusing its position and considers it of vital importance to keep to its projected timetable. According to Quadrant, the Lancashire Police and fire services will be the first emergency services to have the system fully installed at the beginning of 1999. It will then be operational across England and Wales in 2003 and extend to Scotland in 2004. Other applications will follow for the system, which will initially be voice and data only. Image transfer is one which will soon be possible. “If there is a major incident you would be able to send images back to headquarters,” explained Mohammed Rafiq, Quadrant’s marketing manager. Indeed, Rafiq predicts that a whole range of companies will be competing to provide the latest application for the system. “It is open to competition and once the service begins to come in to operation, the situation will mushroom quite rapidly,” he added. If the contract is awarded, and the question at this stage is close to being academic, BTwill become the prime contractor for PSRCP, with Motorola, Nokia and TRW acting as sub-contractors. BT will take on all financial and management responsibilities from the design of the system to the point of delivery. Therefore, the system will be built, owned and operated by BT under the government’s Private Finance Initiative. “The Home Office made it quite clear that they wanted to encourage consortia to bid for the PSRCP. Because it was such a huge project, it was considered that no single company could manage it,” said Rafiq. The communications system will be provided to all the police forces in England, Wales and Scotland and will be taken up by other emergency services only by choice, said Rafiq. Other organisations that it is hoped will use PSRCP include the fire and ambulance services, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Royal Parks Police, the Prison Service and local authority organisations, such as social services. It will only be used by these organisations if it “provides best value against alternatives in the market place,” says Quadrant. Quadrant’s bid is based around Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) and the UK is by no means the first European country to take up TETRA technology. It is already being used in Finland, Denmark and Jersey. In the UK a pilot project has been planned with the West Midlands ambulance service. “It is being carried out as a study on behalf of the whole ambulance service,” said Rafiq. Not everything has gone smoothly in the bidding process for PSRCP. The French-owned company Matra issued a writ against the Home Office last year for damages, saying that the Home Office had acted wrongfully in the procurement process for the ?1.5bn PSRCP contract. Matra argues that the Home Office declared in January 1996 that it would only consider a system based on the TETRA, thus ruling out Matra’s TETRAPOL technology which has been chosen for use by police and safety forces in France, Germany, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The preliminary hearing for the legal action is due to be heard in the High Court in July. The situation has been further complicated by the fact that the body responsible for the bidding process, the Police information Technology Organisation (PITO), was recently made a non-governmental organisation. This makes it difficult to establish just exactly who was in charge at the time of the bidding and who now is accountable; a situation which neither the Home Office or PITO are willing to explain. The outcome of the court action will be of enormous interest. PITO or the Home Office may end up paying more than they bargained for in buying a vital communications network for the UK’s emergency services. What is TETRA? TETRA – short for Terrestrial Trunked Radio – is an open European Telecommunications Standards Institute standard. The system is designed to make the best possible use of the radio spectrum through the sharing of radio resources among users on demand and exploit the advantages of digital transmission. TETRA originated from a Memorandum of Understanding, signed by a group of manufacturers, telecommunications operators and end-users. The agreement defined a standard for private mobile radio (PMR) users, particularly for public safety bodies and sought to promote the adoption of the standard by international standards bodies. The TETRA standard has two main forms: TETRA voice and data and TETRA packet radio optimised. TETRAvoice and data will be used for the UK’s PSRCP. Europe-wide, TETRAfor public safety users will operate in the 380-400MHz band. It provides voice services and both circuit and packet mobile data services. Voice services were developed with PMR and public safety users in mind. Speech is coded at 4.8kbit/s to maximise use of the radio spectrum. Speech signals are also encrypted over the air as standard, preventing eavesdropping with an analogue scanner. Group calls and broadcast calls are supported with fast call set-up times of less than half a second. TETRA supports gateways into other radio systems, such as PSTN/PTN interconnect and voicemail.
Data calls may be made between mobile terminals or to/from central systems or databases. If there is no radio infrastructure present, terminals may operate in direct mode operation, ie mobile to mobile.

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