WA Police dump archaic system for new radio network

It took 12 months just to secure towers

WA Police (WAPOL) is rolling out a new mobile data and voice network across its entire operation to replace an ailing analogue system, dubbed inferior to 1970's technology.

The massive overhaul, which is expected to be completed in early 2008, was detailed at the Fleet Mobile Communications conference yesterday by WAPOL program director for communications infrastructure, Lance Martin.

He said the new police metro radio network (PMRN) replaced a 20 year-old archaic analogue system, composed of second-hand parts and unsupported technology.

It certainly wasn't suitable to support WAPOL which employs 5000 police, has 1000 civilian support staff, 1000 police vehicles, and covers 1.89 million residents.

Martin said encryption has been beefed-up, there is improved functionality and usability of its SQL databases, and an automatic vehicle locator (AVL) system has been installed.

Despite the burden of installing AVLs in 600 vehicles, mobile data access receivers in 400 vehicles, 1800 new handheld radios, and 150 fixed radios across 70 stations, Martin said the biggest challenge was provisioning the 31 microwave-linked radio sites.

"Everyone from state, federal, and local governments to heritage groups and local councils wanted input about [provisioning] radio towers," Martin said.

"We are still many months behind because of this; be prepared to spend 12 months on securing towers."

WAPOL chose to build and manage the PMRN itself rather than opt-in to a public network to "ensure quality and service delivery which isn't always constant with public networks", even though it is "expensive and requires dedicated trained support staff."

The voice and data network has up to 100 voice allocation groups, which provision a number of dedicated communications channels to each district for general operations, while separate roaming channels exist for covert operations.

Up to four levels of redundancy were built into the PMRN, including the maintenance of the unused analogue networks, and extra capacity was provisioned during physical installations.

"We saved big money by building double capacity and redundancy during construction, rather than ripping it apart later," Martin said, adding that the system is supported through the primary Police Communications Centre.

WAPOL used Over the Air Rekeying, rather than manual key loading, to allow lost encryption keys to be easily reset.

"We avoided re-inventing the wheel wherever possible; we used the Victorian example for encryption because you can't have an officer off the network if they lose their key," Martin said.

The project was rolled-out on April 27, after eights week to build the voice network and 23 weeks to construct the data network.

The PMRN is rolled-out to a new district roughly every three weeks, while hands-on and computer-based training takes between two to 30 hours for normal users and support personnel respectively.

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