Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002
80. Can anyone else join? Can anyone else who
is not an emergency service join and take up the offer with Airwave?
(Mr Gieve) No, there is a limit under the terms of
the licence that the DTI run. There is a list on page 17 of the
people we think qualify at present. That can be expanded if the
DTI agree, but this is essentially a public service emergency
service frequency and it is being reserved for that.
81. We have that tied up then.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Webb) It is in the process of being extended;
there are discussions with gas and water and these sorts of other
82. Because they are emergency standby services.
(Mr Webb) For the emergency aspect of that.
83. So it can go to water, gas, electricity.
(Mr Webb) For their emergency services.
84. Can it go to private ambulances as well?
(Mr Webb) If they are registered as part of the emergency
85. So it is flexible.
(Mr Webb) To people providing emergency services.
(Mr Gieve) Not very flexible. If you look at the list
on page 17, I think you would agree that all of those are emergency
86. But they can be added to. I am not familiar
with the term "call dropping". What is it and how big
a problem is it?
(Mr Asque) The issue here is that when somebody uses
their radio, especially early on when people were using their
radio as part of the pilot, or as the system was being installed,
on quite a number of occasions for one reason or another they
would not immediately get through. This was given the name "call
dropping". In practice there are many technical reasons with
the network being implemented why that has happened. A lot of
work has happened in the pilot to identify these issues and to
solve them one by one. There are several issues behind this generic
title. When the user does not get through, they do not get through
and that is all they want to know. They do not want to know all
the technical details behind that of course, but in fact there
was a whole raft of technical detail which led to these sorts
87. They have not been sorted yet, have they?
(Mr Asque)which one by one are being solved
and there are no unknown issues now. All the issues have been
88. One of the advantages you have is that we
have never seen this in operation. I have never seen a dummy of
it but I have seen some of the proposals where we were going to
use police officers in police cars and through this system be
able to download stuff to the onboard computer and upgrade stuff
on the car computer system and transmit that to the station, thereby
saving the officers time to go back to the station. They could
type that or even, God forbid, dictate their reports, which could
be typed up on a central computer system and there would be very
little need to go back to the station apart from the start and
finish of the shift. This technology will drive the officers'
timetables and keep them up to date on a minute by minute basis.
Is that still the aim?
(Mr Asque) That is broadly the intention. It is a
very flexible system and there are lots of phases of developments.
At the moment the system is being rolled out and the intention
is simply to replace the previous generation of voice communications
and slowly add on these additional facilities ranging from small
bits of data to very large amounts of data. It is a progressive
89. When we have gone through these next three
years and we have invested this extra £500 million in the
system, we then get to a crunch point. We either pick up the bill
again for the next five years or the chief constables will come
and explain to us that since they have to fund this over a 19-year
cycle they cannot pay for that and the police officers. You have
to convince them that the new technology means a more efficient
use of their police officers so they will not require those police
officers. Can you tell me how you are going to do that and tell
me what I can say to my constituents as well?
(Mr Gieve) The last spending review set our budget
for the years to 2003-04. We set aside up to £500 million
to meet the costs of Airwave during that three-year period. We
are currently engaged in the next spending review, which will
roll that forward for another two years, so we do not know yet
what the total police budget will be. We have not yet decided
how much we shall give out in specific grants for particular technologies
and how much we shall give out in a general unhypothecated amount.
There are necessary uncertainties about exactly what the position
will be in three years' or more time. I should just like to say
that we have done this development and we are continuing to run
this project with the full co-operation of the police authorities
and ACPO, both of whom are on the programme board, in fact a police
chief was actually chair of the project board when the contract
was signed. It is not the case that they are saying they will
only take it if we force it on them. They are very keen to have
Airwave and their main concern is whether it is coming in early
Mr Jenkins: Anything for free.
90. I have no problem whatsoever with the idea
of the police having the most up-to-date and relevant equipment
available to them at reasonable cost. I can remember three years
ago the Deputy Director of the FBI complaining that the international
drug cartels and the international crime operators had better
technology even than he had available to him at that stage. More
and more of the crime that matters to the public is nationally
and internationally based. So we have to look at a wider perspective
than just the Bobby on the beat and the local burglar. I start
off supportive of the general proposition, particularly as we
previously went through the situation where the Met decided to
computerise and forgot to arrange for each division's computers
to talk to the next division's computers. I can understand the
need for interoperability. What I do find difficult to understand,
reading the report, is why this project is based on 19 years.
Why 19 years, why not 20 years, why not 15 years or indeed with
the rapid rate of change in technology, why not fewer than 10
(Mr Webb) The project is actually based on 15 years
but the 19 years allows for the two-year run-in and the two-year
run-out. The service is being provided to each of the forces for
a block 15 years. We went for 15 years because having examined
the other options that seemed reasonable. Included in the project
cost is an allowance for technology upgrades during that period,
but the rationale of going for the version of technology we went
for, was the fact that we understood a pretty stable development
path, enhancement path as far as that was concerned. To address
one of the issues you raised about security, the system itself
comes as standard with encryption. Therefore all radios provide
a level of encryption. It is a very good level of encryption and
has already in service identified the fact that it has been recognised
by the criminal fraternity that the messages are now encrypted.
91. Looking as a layman at the incredible rate
of change just in our mobile phones over the last five years,
the rate of technological change in this area seems to be accelerating
if anything. What is the nature of the guarantee you have on technological
upgrade? What is your criterion going to be as to whether you
are getting the most up-to-date equipment? Who judges under the
(Mr Webb) The contract is run and monitored by PITO,
in fact we are constantly examining what is being used by forces
and what technology is available. We would have to work closely
with both the Police Service and the supplier of the service to
ensure that we were getting up-to-date technology. With all of
these areas, obviously we would want to ensure that there was
going to be some business benefit in terms of introducing new
technology. What we do not want to do is to be in a situation
where we are just introducing the technology for its own sake.
We would be examining that constantly throughout that 15-year
92. It is a very unforeseeable area, is it not?
The risk cost of technological progression must be very considerable.
(Mr Webb) They are and in fact that is always the
case in terms of watching what is happening with technology and
ensuring that you maintain to current standards and to current
developments in technology in the domestic sector. We would have
to monitor that constantly and ensure that there was an upgrade
93. Looking over a 15-year period and looking
at the rate of change and looking at the risk element in that,
how are you able to come to the conclusion that the rate of return
(Mr Webb) In that 17% a fair degree of risk was built
in. Bear in mind that it is the responsibility of O2 to deliver
the technology upgrade, therefore recognising that was part of
the risk they built into that assessment.
94. Looking at page 12 and the services it says
Menu Exclusive Services "The guaranteed handheld coverage
. . . will meet only some of the force's need for this service
. . . To meet its requirements for guaranteed handheld coverage,
the force will purchase this additional coverage directly from
O2". What protection do they have, since they are a captive
market, that the prices they will be charged for the extra facility
will be reasonable and competitive?
(Mr Webb) Those charges are guaranteed within the
95. They are guaranteed within the contract
indefinitely, right through the life of the contract?
(Mr Webb) Yes.
96. Does the same apply in the diagram below
which says some forces require to operate inside buildings and
again they can purchase guaranteed in-building penetration of
Airwave from O2?
(Mr Webb) That is right.
97. That is also covered.
(Mr Webb) That is right.
98. We are not in a situation where we could
be held over a barrel by O2.
(Mr Webb) No. We are providing a general service here
but it was recognised that in a number of areas police forces
may wish, where they operate in large shopping centres or in airports
or underground areas, to have additional coverage and that was
provided for them.
99. What is built into the contract to ensure
not only that those costs are fair in relation to the cost which
goes on Airwave, but also are value for money in terms of what
in this evolving technology and evolving market could be available
to carry out these add-on functions from other suppliers. Is there
any protection about the marketplace developing and O2 not developing
as fast as these suppliers?
(Mr Webb) The current programme is one of extending
the Airwave coverage into these areas, assuming that is what the
police force wants, to have a level of coverage within buildings
with their existing hand-held radio equipment, therefore the assumption
is that they would want to use the same technology everywhere.
They would not wish a terminal for one requirement and a totally
different one if they are going into a building. They would want
to use the same terminal for everything.