EC rules £2.5bn Tetra network ‘unlawful’

By Liesbeth Evers, Network News, and Ian Lynch, [27-07-2000]

Government should not have specified Tetra for police networks.

The future of a multi-billion pound police digital radio network, Airwave, is in doubt after the European Commission said the Home Office had unlawfully limited the contract to tenders that could provide the terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) standard.

The future of Airwave will be debated in a European court later this year, although the Home Office may have the right to appeal or conduct the tendering process again.

The Home Office had granted the £2.5bn Airwave contract to BT Quadrant, but a commission spokesman said that this was against an EU directive which states that public authorities are not allowed to reject tenders on the grounds of a specific technical standard, and that they must allow at least five tenders to ensure effective competition.

An EC spokesperson said that by forcing through Tetra technology the Home Office had restricted the competition to three tenders that could provide Tetra.

One of the companies that could have offered an alternative system was Ram Mobile Data, which currently provides a data network to 26 of the 50 police forces. This supports packet data transmission, a technique that is used for sending large data file like vehicle information and is not yet available in Tetra.

“We would have liked to make a competitive bid, but couldn’t because we use a different technology than Tetra. With a partnership with a voice provider, I am sure we could have met the police’s requirements,” said Adrian Noad, director of business development at Ram Mobile Data.”

Network News understands that senior police officers are relieved that they may not have to pay huge sums of cash for a network that has been branded as costly, slow and likely to be out of date by the time it is installed.

Many are only involved in the programme because they would have to pay for it even if they didn’t use it, and because the Home Office has sold their old radio frequencies during the recent 3G auction.

The government has been on the back foot about Tetra recently. Only hours before the EC’s announcement Jack Straw had announced that he would make #500m available to relieve police concerns on funding.

At time of going to press, the Home Office had not decided how it was going to deal with the EC’s ruling, but the Office of the Government Commerce said it was disappointed by the EC’s decision.