back to article UK police to spend tens of millions on legacy comms network kit

The UK's police service is set to spend up to £50 million ($62.7 million) buying hardware and software for a legacy communication network that was planned to become obsolete in 2019. The Home Office had planned to replace the Airwave secure emergency communication system, which launched in 2000, with a more advanced Emergency …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Jokes on them

    The police said they’d arrest me if I kept telling bad jokes.

    I stopped because I was scared I would end up in punitentiary.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Jokes on them

      I was nearly imprisoned on the day I was awarded a bronze badge here. It was headline news at the time, well, here at least because it was funny.

      I'd been involved in a court case and had suddenly figured out how to end it so I phoned the police helpline offering to go into the local cop shop to explain. They told me to stay put and an officer would phone me back. I went for a shower expecting to walk there after. Police raid on the house, and when I asked why they said because I used the word epiphany on the phone, they thought I was a danger to myself. If only I'd known the correct term was "mindset reset".

      I came down the stairs in a towel to be barked at by two officers, so I explained myself and questioned their actions. "You're talking down to us!" "I am literally sat down looking up at you so I don't appear threatening." "There you go again, talking down to us. You think you're smarter than us." I bit my tongue, I didn't laugh, but an involuntary sigh got me arrested.

      12 police raids, some funnier than that, and they only stopped when I threatened to put in an FOI on how many raids they'd been and why (peace protester/terrorist).

  2. wyatt

    Oh how I wish I'd have brought shares in Motorola, they're lapping it up!

    1. Commswonk

      Oh how I wish I'd have brought shares in Motorola, they're lapping it up!

      Quite. It's hardly Motorola's fault if there is not really a competitive market in TETRA equipment and networks.

      The Home Office is likely to find the same in trying to find 3 potential suppliers of mobile terminals. IIRC many years ago (when TETRA was very new) there were 4 then; Motorola (surprise!) Cleartone (for vehicle equipment only) Sepura and Nokia. Again IIRC Nokia soon dropped out leaving (by simple arithmetic) just 3. Then Cleartone decided to do likewise and their (singular) product (the CM5000 if memory serves) was taken over by... let me think... Motorola.

      With Sepura now being owned by Hytera it might no longer be acceptable for secure and sensitive communications to have overlords in the Middle Kingdom; if it has fallen out of favour that leaves just 1; Motorola.

      Not Motorola's fault; just a function of the way the cookie crumbles.

      This latest Home Office plan (if it can be said to be a plan) is IMHO unlikely to achieve the intended result.

  3. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    Not all Motorola

    I can't belive I am defending them, but the new system cannot go ahead without the equivalent, replacement 4G network coverage.

    There is very little of the country that Airwave does not cover, although Raynet (used to and I assume still do) provide mobile boosting transmitters for major emergencies. However, there are still large geographic parts of the UK (many near to major poulation centres) that do not have 4G coverage and so the Emergency Services would have no communications in those areas with the new system.

    OFCOM seem happy with the current 4G population coverage and so are working against the Emergency Services by not pushing for geographic coverage.

    I have contacted my MP, using short words, many times on this issue and he still has no understanding of the ramifications.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not all Motorola

      And redundant hardware, as well as portable masts, terminal relaying...

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Not all Motorola

        The portable masts and "leaky feeder" cables for underground usage do all exist.

        One of the core features of Airwave is that it does direct handset-to-handset "calls", with no base station at all.

        IIRC, one reason the "new" system was marked as unacceptable and needed major redesign was because it couldn't do that core function.

    2. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Not all Motorola

      And this is the problem, for some reason a push-to-talk system with almost universal coverage was deemed inappropriate or legacy and that the solution was to use a mobile phone. Then the person out in the field could have all the information they needed.

      Maybe I have missed the point, most appear to have corporate phones anyway and the PTT is the safety net.

      Just because the latest (although in this case that is a moot point) technology appears cool in an office in the middle of London, does not mean that it actually works in the field.

      A case in point is the old Motorola V3 phone, it was utterly indestructible, could be used with gloves and made phone calls. You could even send messages and try to download a train notification over Edge. The only improvement would have been to make it splash/waterproof.

  4. unbender

    Without travelling anywhere in the highlands, there are massive areas of the country where there isn't even 3G.

    I'd love to see the effect of push-to-talk on a 4G network when a major incident was going on.

    1. Red Ted

      Geographic coverage

      One of the requirements for the ESN network is to have a 95% georgraphic coverage, which results in EE (for it is they who are providing the network) having to build several hundred more base station in rural parts of the country.

      1. ricardian

        Re: Geographic coverage

        A new mast with some equipment cabinets was installed a couple of months ago. So far no aerials have been added to the mast.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Geographic coverage

        Having been a tech support manager in largest county in England, read the small print. the 95% of coverage is by population. That final 5% covers huge geographic areas, even where coverage is claimed its often unusable. I always have a 4G signal in my home office but calls often have such poor quality that I can hardly understand the caller and drop out frequently. Unfortunately the phone often decides that the 4g signal is, in fact, good enough and drops off wifi calling.

  5. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I didnt really follow that

    so whats wrong with what they're using at present?

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Maybe it doesn't have rounded corners.

      No, I wasn't too sure either, other than an assertion to declare the existing kit obsolete.

    2. Commswonk whats wrong with what they're using at present?

      I will take that to mean "what's wrong with TETRA / Airwave".

      The data capability of TETRA is rather less than modest, and this was seen as a potential problem 16 years ago when I retired from "emergency communications". How much of a limitation it has been in practice is something on which others may be able to comment.

      On paper TETRA can handle video but again the capability is modest and bandwidth hungry; quite how necessary video really is I'm not sure. Even static images can be a problem; again there is a bandwidth requirement to send them. The original TETRA equipment had no camera capability (and that might still be the case) but the screens on the mobile terminals (mobile here including hand - portable) were so small as to make viewing a still picture of a known suspect (etc) sent out by a Control Room close to pointless.

      TETRA was a quantum leap in police (etc) communications capability, but that did not stop the users (or at least their high - level representatives) from proclaiming its shortcomings as show - stoppers.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        I helped put in SNDCP over TETRA handsets many years ago, for Seppy.

        As I recall we were getting around 10kbps over a good link. Enough for photographs and text email (no big attachments).

        I think maybe in the mean time the bandwidth might have increased, but not much.

        Why don't they do dual RAT handsets? Use 4G where available and fall back to TETRA, then they can turn off TETRA in the populated areas.

        1. Tadpole

          This is the actual use case for a number of European countries who have a phased approach for the rollout of new network services where a dual device is a requirement supporting both Tetra and 3GPP LTE services.

          In essence they will continue to use Tetra for mission critical voice and an MVNO initially to provide the 4G/5G data bearer services , assume will be non mission critical bearer services i.e. QCI 6/7.

          The next phase would be to build their own private LTE network again this would offer data services only with reliance still on Tetra for mission critical voice services the data services would be mission critical QCI 69/70.

          The final phase after a number of years and one would assume after a hell of a lot of testing would be to switch fully to the LTE services with both voice and data once the network has matured and proven stable at this point there would be no further reliance on Tetra and the system could be decommissioned.

          It seems only the UK has gone down this route of relying on a commercial network operator for radio access , this than integrates with the ESN network.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Relatively low data rates - the ESN contract should always have been a data only contract.

      That could have been developed, used and iterated upon - without significant risk to the public since it would have been supplemental to the TETRA network.

  6. JassMan


    Since they are relying on 4G, and they all have mobile phones, why on earth don't they just use Telegram. It has one to one voice chats or you can broadcast to a group. If you want to be silent you can use text instead of voice. The source code is available so they can check it out and fork it if they want to change the way it works. Whats not to like?

    Having said all that, I believe that some (perhaps most) of the source code is far from optimised to be read by "normal" humans. I have read that many coders think it is deliberately obfuscated, others just think it is just a very hard to understand style.

    Who knows, but there may be the possibility that for a budget far less than what Motorola are asking, the telegram devs could make it work on servers running in UK and as a totally private and secure system.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SAAS at its worst

    Worked for a company integrating Motorola/Kodiak's functionality into the main product. Kodiak is essentially a web service run by Motorola.

    No matter how clean, elegant and clever our code was, at the end of the day, it was all down to Kodiak to hold up their end of the deal.

    Guess what? It was the most flaky, unreliable and inconsistent system I have *ever* dealt with in over 30 years of professional development. We felt like we were debugging/testing their system for them. It was SAAS at its worst.

    AC for obvious reasons

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How much would it cost for nationwide coverage of cups and string? I think if they tried that approach it would be finished long before the ESN plus it would be loads cheaper.

    1. monty75

      They could put them in special blue boxes that also double as space and time travelling vehicles.

  9. Hubert Thrunge Jr.

    Moon on a stick

    This is what happens when you want the moon on a stick, yet nobody had planted the seed that would grow into the tree that would supply the stick.

    I recall phrases like "it'll be an app that will run on our Blackberry phones", and the alarm bells going off in my head.

    The people who wanted the ESN had no idea about anything to do with Comms, RF, or reality if the truth is known.

    They were just desperate to dump Airwave and it's growing costs as the tapering contract signed by the minister at day one meant that it just got more and more expensive.

    When Macquarie decided to get rid of Airwave, the Home Office should have bought it and that would have ended the massive cost burden in one hit, but they seem to be allergic to owning anything. Should have been in-house from day one.

    One thing ESN has done is accelerated the development of secure apps and functions within the 3GPP standards.

    It's a cluster-f**k of a project. It will never do what it was asked (D2D being one function) and let's not forget, the only reason it's EE and Motorola, everyone else walked away.

    1. highfrequency

      Re: Moon on a stick

      If the government had took control of the TETRA network when it had the chance, the savings would have been huge. The sheer amount of profit being made by Motorola from the Airwave system is obscene, and the government to want to shut it down quickly because it's 'expensive to run'!

      When the rollout starts there is going to almost certainly be lots of complaints about coverage in rural areas vs Airwave.

  10. Vadiba

    By the time ESN is available, it'll be out of date and need replacing along with all the control room infrastructure used by the emergency services. They should have purchased and retained Airwave for all critical comms, and taken advantage of the latest technology for 5G encrypted data. Not that they weren't told 8 years ago!

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