back to article TETRA defends itself against RIM onslaught

TETRA, the radio network used by public services in Europe, has been defending itself against allegations that it lacks the capacity needed by modern police networks. In the UK, police forces routinely use both TETRA, branded Airwave, and commercial GSM networks for data access, the latter using RIM equipment. TETRA operates …


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  1. Mike Westmacott

    Looks classy!

    Secret? My arse.

  2. Martin
    Black Helicopters

    GSM in an emergency

    This isn't an issue in the event of an emergency as mobile service providers use class of service priority classifications for use with SIM cards. A while since I was involved with this but remember them having 10 to 15 classes with lower for Joe Bloggs off the street and higher classes for emergency services; very highest class of priority going to network engineering SIMs. The idea being that a higher priority SIM can "bump" a lower level off the network in that particular cell.

    Obviously if the emergency is a serious power outage then it's a moot point as the Tetra has greater radio coverage and would most likely deal better with localised blackouts than smaller GSM cells.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Guessing but if I was designing I covert TETRA terminal I would make it look and behave like an ordinary mobile phone.

  4. adam
    Paris Hilton

    GSM dodgy in an emergency

    While that might be true in theory, I think in practice this facility is rarely deployed and/or tested in anger, so the likelihood is that it won't work....

    Some TETRA implementations are using TCP/IP over them now for data transfer so plod can surf the net (one I talked to was very keen on being able to surf porn while sitting in his panda car!!!)

    Paris because she'd be first to be downloaded in the nuddy!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tetra - Much better than GSM coverage.

    I know how and who does Tetra testing.... It's not just every road which is tested! Big chunky backpacks are used when on foot in places like pedestrianized areas.

    Tetra coverage isn't just guesswork in the UK either. Every public road is tested, you'd be amazed at the amount of miles clocked up checking the network - far, far more than GSM will ever clock up.

  6. Jason Harvey

    @Mike Westmacott

    Binatone != Motorola

  7. Tony

    Tetra - reliable!


    I've got 2 baked bean tins and some string that outperform Airwave (BTW European Tetrapol isn't the same as Airwave - one works, the other .........don't let Airwave's PR department try and convince you Airwave works like the European systems that really do work). Ask anyone in the telecoms industry.

    Quote ‘The Airwave digital radio system was never contracted to work in buildings or on the Underground, according to a London Assembly report into the 7 July London bomb attack.’

    Ooops, lucky nothing ever happens on the Underground. Luckily my Blackberry works in buildings

    Oh, and the entire radio infrastructure of the UK emergency services is owned by an Aussie bank. Bizarrely I can't find any reference to the national security of the UK in their blurb, but I'm sure its more important than their shareholders.

    @ Better than GSM Coverage - who's got a job at the Macquarie PR department then? Bet you've never had your life depend on this system, unlike 130,000 coppers and 56 million potential victims of crime, fire, injury etc. Back to the bar job for you.

    Hell, I've been to telecoms conferences where the Head of IT for a police force implored the mobile phone industry to give him better commercial data speeds as Airwave would never do what its supposed to.

    At RiM outages are only occasional rather than most of the time. The future's bright, the future's black......berry

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Chunky backpacks

    that cos if you use a handset it doesn't work!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    What on earth is RIM?

    I've spent the last two years supporting various police forces, and I've never heard of RIM.

    And if Tetra is so low on capacity, why is the entire fire service and ambulance service going over to it as well? Not to mention Special Branch and assorted other spooks...

  10. Anonymous Coward

    They're right

    TETRA is indeed painfully slow for data transfer. Something like 7 kb/s if you're lucky. And they don't really recommend much usage of TCP over it either.

    Ok, Airwave may have demonstrated applications sending pictures, but they'll be tiny images. For example, one of the apps created by the police IT folk (NPIA) is based on WAP over TETRA. No, really.

    The police certainly don't use just RIM devices though, no matter how much RIM would like to say so, but yes, there is a *lot* of GSM data usage made by the forces.

    Now if only Motorola could make their TETRA PDAs the size of this new covert radio.. they're absolutely massive at the moment.

  11. Charles Manning

    Horses for courses

    So what if Tetra has low bandwidth. That's not really what it is there fore!

    Sure, some data and mugshots etc should flow through TETRA, but not floods of www, pron and iso images.

    There are some very cool things in TETRA, like being able to make ad-hoc cellular style network connections on the fly. GSM, otho, is pretty good for putting in a static coverage area.

    There are very good reasons for having private networks for emergency services:

    (1) preventing congestion. Last time we had a decent eathquake here, the cell system and landlines were choked for the next 30 minutes by everyone phoning their friends: "OMG! did you feel that!". If emergency services had needed GSM to do anything they'd have been SOL. Likely a big bomb or other event triggers the same reaction.

    (2) independence of damage to cell systems.

    So why not give the plods both? That way if GSM is available they could use that and TETRA when not, or vice versea. It is even conceivable to put both in one handset and to bridge between the networks so that it is all seamless and plod-proof.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    And I've planned a few...

    Having designed the radio coverage for a few bits of the country during my professional career, I'd be far more comfortable with my local copper carrying a TETRA radio rather than GSM/WCDMA mobile when I make my next 999 call.

    For a start, TETRA does reach further - there was the occasional time I studied my predicted coverage on our planning tool and thought "wow, this is an *excellent* site", only to realise I was looking at 450MHz coverage (TETRA) rather than 900MHz (GSM). And, of course, longer range means fewer sites to cover the same area - maybe a tenth of the number of 3G sites - because the Government who pays for the network doesn't generate quite the same revenue as 60m GSM users with their mobile phones.

    On the downside, 450MHz works less well in deep indoor areas, and tunnels (we found 1800MHz/2100MHz tends to bounce around indoors a lot better) - hence poorer penetration indoors and the tube. Of course, if there is no TETRA coverage, changes are a PC can use their own personal mobile (What, they don't have them?!?), or borrow one off a community-spirited member of public (What, we don't have them?!?).

    GSM *does* have functionality to prioritise channels for emergency services - and chances are, after 7/7, that the networks actually implement it - but it's still far less predictable than having your own personal network, and I'm sure the SLAs with Airwave are a lot tighter than they could be with a public network. The other thing is that if Dubya flies over again and they want to jam the mobile phone frequencies, they can still leave TETRA's 450MHz alone.

    As for the size - y' cannae change the laws of physics, and 4 times the wavelength means 4 times the antenna length; you probably want a battery that'd last a good day as well; and all that makes even HTC's phones look teeny.

    And as for testing the networks - sorry, but I'm sure the TETRA network has nowhere near the same amount as testing. Each mobile network typically employs 4-8 full-time staff per region (maybe 30-40 nationally) to test coverage from new sites, and changes to existing ones; the field techs and planning engineers will also have a go when they want to check something, and many networks use full-time 24/7 data loggers installed in 'natural' roamers like taxis and buses to collect general statistics, AND they'll take measurements off your and my handsets, gathered centrally. So, they know that you don't have coverage in your downstairs toilet - but it's not really a priority for them right now....

  13. David Shaw
    Paris Hilton


    well, the GSM network in an emergency can give millions of failed call attempts; the UK Access Overload Control (ACCOLC) of GSM is fine when 'the first responders' have the access keys. in 7/7 they didn't have, ACCOLC was ruled out by Gold command, but accidentally ruled in by a more local commander. GSM confusion! 3G was open and working OK all day long.

    Runners were used to convey medical communications. Runners were used to convey Fire Brigade communications. Runners were used in Olympia @ 2000BC, so what's new!

    The covert kit for Motorola is a bit of aquarium tubing that goes behind the ear, up the sleeve etcetera - on sale on eBay.

    Whilst talking to the Spanish Ministry of Interior Program Directorate about their national emergency radio system SIRDEE , (considered possibly as an EU reference Model for an Integrated System) SIRDEE is TETRAPOL FDMA, the equipment is by EADS Telecom/MATRA, Telefonica owned infrastructure, the hands-on-control INDRA, the O&M Telefonica, operational use FF.CC.SS.EE also connected to FRONTEX/ Schengen for the South Border immigration Pressure. There are about 120K SIRDEE user organisations, 60 base networks to cover Spain, 54290 terminals in the 52 provinces with a QoS time availability of 95%. SIRDEE was conceived as a Voice+occasional data system (like TETRA) but hasrapidly evolved from

    600 "voice queries per-day to a database-control-room in January 2005" to currently an

    end-user (PC Plod) direct data query terminal function of over 11000 data queries per-day,

    with now a 4 seconds response using SIRDEE network, for for example, FRONTEX related queries to the Schengen DB & the Delinquency Traffic DB. What this all means is that UK Airwave TETRA was imposed, and has shit data rate but may get better when it is paid for, or use GPRS/Crackberry. SIRDEE was competitively chosen , has lower O&M/terminal costs for a bigger area, and delivers better data on the beat, and this extra data capacity is being heavily used , especially for anti-trafficking

    /mines the Sombrero , Paris isn't in Spain


    Here's a picture


  15. pctechxp
    Gates Horns

    I thought the main benefit of TETRA

    Was the strong encryption designed to stop the scum from eavesdropping on police frequencies with scanners along with the ability to push data to the screen of the terminal such as the results of vehicle checks?

    Bill because he's cheesed off that there aren't any Windows Mobile powered TETRA terminals

    As for the question about what RIM stands for it is Research In Motion, the company behind the Blackberry and its server and other associated software and services.

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