Safety net

A contract to develop a backup communication system for the UK’s emergency services has been announced by O2.

A contract to develop a backup communication system for the UK’s emergency services has been announced by O2.

The UK mobile phone giant, currently the target of a £17.7bn takeover bid from Spain’s Telefonica, has claimed that the system will make the UK’s emergency services the best connected in the world.

O2 Airwave, an advanced digital communications service for the emergency and other public safety (blue light) services, was awarded the contract by the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) to deliver a National Fallback Service (NFS).

This follows the announcement in July that O2 Airwave will be supplying the service to the Ambulance Trusts for England, bringing the value of new business won this financial year to £750m.

Used by more than 130,000 officers across police forces throughout the UK, Airwave is designed to set up a seamless network across the country. NFS, however, will deliver a standby duplicate switch network that fully replicates the existing airwave switch network. The company claimed that this development is unparalleled in the delivery of public safety communications anywhere in the world.

Airwave uses Motorola’s Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) technology, an open digital trunked radio standard defined by the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute (ETSI) which features level three encryption security.

Currently O2 Airwave has standby infrastructure securely located which can be brought into service should part or a whole switch be lost. But the operator claimed that with NFS, the service restoration should take minutes rather than hours — critical in the event of national disasters and security threats.

As well as replicating the switch network, the contract will also provide the company with an opportunity to generate improvements to base station availability, which is expected to further contribute towards a more secure and reliable communication systems. Rings of microwave radio-based bearer circuits that will replace the existing ground-based network links will offer extra resilience and more secure communication links. The idea is that, in the event of a network failure, the radio-protected sites would be able to provide a fully-functioning network.

Pete Richardson, managing director of O2 Airwave explained: ‘Our objective is to provide a highly resilient service that can be relied upon to provide true interoperability between all organisations involved in public safety and protection should they need to work together in day-to-day operations or at the scene of major or minor incidents. This, I believe, will deliver tremendous value and real benefit to the nation and public safety as a whole.’

In addition to the police and numerous ambulance trusts, Airwave is being used by the Highways Agency, MoD, Emergency Planning Departments, and various CCTV systems. The company is also currently in negotiations with the Scottish and Welsh Ambulance services and Firelink, the government task force charged with the implementation of a National Wide Area Radio for the fire and rescue service.