Airwave is a national system covering England,
Scotland and Wales that will provide a modern, dedicated and fully
integrated emergency communications system for the police. Once
the infrastructure is in place across the country, the service
has the potential to be extended to include the other emergency
servicesparticularly fire and ambulanceto ensure
joined up communication amongst all emergency services.
Airwave is not a commercial communications system.
Its whole purpose is to improve the safety of the general public
and, ultimately, save lives. Airwave has a duty to ensure that
comprehensive coverage is achieved throughout the geography covered
by the police force.
Airwave must site base stations (also called
transmitters) in places that will deliver the coverage the police
have said they require. There must not be any significant "dead
spots" in radio coverage as these could put at risk not only
individual police officers but also members of the public.
As a responsible and ethical company, health
and safety issues are very important to Airwave mmO2 Ltd. It is
appreciated that a lot of concern has been expressed about potential
health risks, often based on incomplete facts or opinion.
It is very important that people are presented
with the full, unbiased and independent facts, not just selective
or emotive views.
What should be understood is that the acknowledged
experts in this fieldinternationally as well as nationallyhave
reviewed the whole body of scientific evidence on health and safety
of wireless technologies which emit radio frequency signals and
they keep this continually under review. On the basis of that
evidence they have set safety standardson a precautionary
basis with substantial safety margins built indesigned
to protect the general public. These standards also take into
account the fact that there is still research ongoing in this
Airwave's position is that it is for the relevant
expert authorities, not the industry or individuals, to set the
standards. Specifically, this is the task of the UK's National
Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) and the International Commission
on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
Both NRPB and ICNIRP set guidelines for radio
emissions from aerials and handsets that are based on the precautionary
principle. Independent testing of Airwave aerials and handsets
shows that our system falls well within these guidelinestypically
hundreds or even thousands of times below the thresholds.
The UK's Radio Communications Agencyacknowledged
experts in measuring radio frequency emissionsrecently
published a report on emissions from mobile telephone masts having
tested at 100 sites across the country, where masts were located
close to schools, This showed that all the transmitters were emitting
at 100s and often 1,000s of times below the ICNIRP guidelines.
So to summarise:
it is, rightly, not the job
of the industry or individuals to set the standards;
this is the job of the relevant,
independent, expert authorities (NRPB and ICNRP) to set the guidelines;
these are based on all relevant
scientific evidence (World Health Organisation has over 600 studies
on RF). Guidelines are set following a review of that evidence
and using a precautionary approach. The guidelines have
recently been reaffirmed following a major review; and
over and above this, Airwave base
stations typically operate at hundreds, if not thousands of times
below these precautionary guidelines.
It might also be appropriate to correct some
of the misconceptions that have been circulating in the media
and elsewhere about Airwave.
First, Airwave base stations do not pulse. The
latest research from the NRPB confirms that:
". . .TETRA base station signals are
continuous and not pulsed over time intervals that could cause
power modulation . . ."
Second, the signals from TETRA base stations
are not more powerful than those of ordinary mobile telecommunications
base stations. In fact, Airwave base station signals have a lower
power output than GSM, which is the standard for most mobile phone
Airwave recently commissioned independent testing
of telecommunications masts at a single site in Lancashire where
there is a TETRA mast alongside an ordinary mobile phone mast,
a TV transmitter and an FM radio transmitter. Measurements were
taken of emissions from these masts at various distances from
the base stations and these show that the TETRA transmitter has
lower emission levels than any of the others.
Third, TETRA base stations do not transmit at
frequencies similar to those used by the human brain. Some human
brain frequencies operate at around 16Hz and the Stewart report
on mobile phones expressed disquiet about the potential effects
of AMPLITUDE MODULATED signals at around this frequency.
But Airwave base stations transmit at between
390 and 395 MGHz, nowhere near the frequency of the human brain,
and as the NRPB has confirmed they are not amplitude modulated.
Fourth, TETRA is also not an untried and untested
technology. Systems using the TETRA standard are already operated
in the UK by Dolphin for commercial purposes, used by the police
force in Jersey for the last six years, and have been in use in
Europe and many other parts of the world for several years.
There has been extensive research into the effects
of radio emissions over many years and the NRPB's Advisory Committee
on Non-Ionising Radiation published a specific report on TETRA
in November of last year that stated:
"The exposures of the general public,
at normally accessible positions in the vicinity of TETRA base
stations, will be small fractions of the exposure guidelines and
will be comparable with exposures due to the ambient field strengths
arising from the operation of other telecommunications systems."
In other words, the experts don't see any difference
between TETRA base stations and those of ordinary mobile operators.
Finally, it might be worth referring briefly
to some of the views expressed about the TETRA standardby
people such as Barrie Trower who has received some publicity on
Mr Trower's report contained no new research
or evidence about Airwave or the TETRA system. He simply reviewed
a number of previous studies that had raised health concerns about
the TETRA standard. This material is well-known to the experts
at NRPB and ICNIRP and it has either proved impossible to replicate
in subsequent studies, or the methodology of the studies themselves
has been called into question.
In conclusion, we need to respect the fact that
people have concerns and it is right that these are openly acknowledged
and addressed. But equally, it is important that people are given
a fair and balanced view of the issues involved and that they
understand the very real public safety benefits that the Airwave
The tragic events of 11 September andcloser
to homethe tragedies of recent years at Lockerbie, Hungerford,
Hillsborough, Kings Cross and the rest all point to the need to
ensure our emergency services have the communications services
they deservefit for meeting the demands of the 21st century.