massive scheme to replace police radio networks with high-tech hand
held computers is turning into a multi-billion pound white elephant
thanks to a Government blunder.
The £2 billion Airwave system, which was bought from mobile
phone group mm02, is not delivering what was anticipated, say major
police forces. But putting things right could add hundreds of
millions of pounds to the project.
Airwave was meant to deliver secure communications between officers
and controllers at 50 police forces. It was also supposed to file
reports and access databases on the move.
But far from allowing rapid down-loading of data, Airwave is
operating at less than a quarter of the speed of computer modems ten
years ago. That means it takes 12 seconds or more to download a
passport size picture to one of the few terminals equipped to receive
them, according to the Police Information Technology Organisation.
MP's are already asking questions and the National Audit Office and
Public Accounts Committee are also understood to be about to launch
inquiries. Though mm02 is responsible for installing and managing the
Airwave system, the company is not believed to be in the line of
fire. Rather it was the original specification that was at fault.
The Home Office admitted on Friday that forces were already having to
supplement the network with other equipment and radios were being
replaced as obsolete even though the system is not even complete.
A secret report prepared by Northumbria Police Authority and obtained
by Financial Mail says: 'It was originally envisaged that Airwave
would be the primary mechanism for carrying mobile data, but the
capacity for data is much lower than expected and not suitable for
all mobile services.'
The report is just one of many complaints from top officers and key
technicians on the project.
'Airwave is better than the old system for voice traffic - at least
we don't get interference from Dutch cabbies anymore,' said one
police source. 'But it is nothing like the brave new world we were
Liberal Democrat MP Marl Oaten tabled a series of parliamentary
questions last week about the project, demanding to know how much
costs were likely to rise and whether extra radio masts will be
needed. There are 3.500 masts for Airwave, which have sparked health
concerns at the Police Federation and among nearby residents. Some
estimates say forces will have to double the number of masts to
ensure proper data coverage. Oaten is especially concerned that if
identity cards are introduced, the need for police to move digital
data will rocket and costs will soar.
An mm02 spokesman said:'The Airwave system is delivering services
that customers have asked for. Forces are delighted to have a secure
and reliable communications system.'