U.K. Police to Get $4B Digital Radio System

LONDON (03/08/2000) - Police officers across the U.K. are to be linked by a single nationwide wireless digital voice and data network, it was announced today. However, the U.K. government is not yet certain how it will fund the system, which is expected to cost 2.5 billion pounds (US$4 billion) over 19 years.

The nationwide network of the Public Safety Radio Communications Project (PSRCP) will replace a patchwork of aging analog systems in use by local police forces, and is expected to be ready for use by 2005. [See "U.K. Police Sign $4B Digital Radio Deal with BT," Mar. 8.]British Telecommunications PLC (BT) has won the contract to build and operate the system, said Home Secretary Jack Straw, speaking at a press conference today -- but how the mammoth project will be paid for was not entirely clear.

According to Straw, eighty percent of the money for the project will come from central government funding, but the government has yet to precisely name where all of the funds will come from, raising concerns that the U.K. police services may be hard hit by resulting budgetary constraints.

"We have a determination that the police fund is properly funded. But the project is proof that we're putting our money where our mouth is. We just need to sort the future budget details out," Straw said.

Nevertheless, contract winner BT was delighted with the project, said Chairman Sir Iain Vallance, speaking at the same press conference.

BT will be the lead contractor for the construction and operation of the PSRCP network, which is based on TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio), the European standard for digital trunked mobile radio communications.

The company has signed sub-contracts with Motorola Inc. to build the radio network and with systems integrator TRW Inc. to help roll out the system over the next five years, said Vallance.

Not all of the U.K.'s 53 police forces would have to wait that long to access the new service, he said. "The pilot program will start this summer in Lancashire and will go through the fall."

The pressure is on to replace the analog systems used by the various police forces today, which use a portion of the radio spectrum which must be reallocated to other applications in 2004.

In addition, the existing analog systems only offer voice communications, and do not support data. in contrast, the TETRA system used by PSRCP employs encrypted transmissions, will offer enhanced video and data services, and will enable the use of multimedia terminals rather than the current talk-only radios.

Under the PSRCP contract, individual police forces will also be able to pick from a range of such advanced services that can be chosen to suit an individual community's needs.

"There are powerful benefits for rural forces," due to the more complete coverage of PSRCP, Straw said. "It's not as if we're reinventing the wheel, but we do have to come up with a much better machine."

The new system would have major crime reduction benefits, he said. "Now there are often holes in the system and it's lucky that where those holes are is not widely known," he added.

Vallance also pointed out that the PSRCP system held great potential -- and potential profits for BT -- for fire and ambulance services.

"It still has to be marketed fully to the fire and ambulance service, but interoperability between the emergency services is highly desirable," Vallance said.

The fire service will also be participating in the PSRCP trials during the second and third quarters of this year, Vallance said.

BT, in London, can be reached at +44-207-356-5000 or at http://www.bt.com/.

Motorola, in Schaumburg, Illinois, can be reached at +1-847-576-5000 or http://www.motorola.com/. The Home Office, in London, can be contacted at +44-207-273-4000, or at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/. TRW, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, can be contacted at +1-216-291-7179, or at http://www.trw.com/.

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