The UK's fire and ambulance services are due to begin specifying nationwide digital radio networks within the next month.
But a recent conference has highlighted shortcomings of Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra), a digital radio technology already being implemented by the UK police.
The Tetrapol Users Club Conference in Berlin last week claimed that Tetra is unsuitable for the needs of national emergency services networks. No nationwide networks have successfully been implemented using the technology, compared to over 64 countries using Tetrapol.
Alleged shortcomings of Tetra compared to Tetrapol include a lack of end-to-end data encryption, a comparatively short communications range between base stations, and poor support for converged voice and data services.
Franz Neiderer, president of the Tetrapol Users Club, stated that Tetrapol also offers a more reliable solution. "Reliability is one of the key issues that will prove the worth of the technology," he said.
As a replacement for their current analogue radio system in February 2000 the UK police chose a Tetra solution, mmO2 Airwave. But the police implementation has suffered a number of setbacks, including a missed deadline to provide Tetra support to the Greater Manchester Police at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Ian Murgatroyd, stage manager for the Airwave project at Greater Manchester Police, said: "Some redesign and commissioning work was needed before we could use Airwave. We decided to stop the project until these upgrades were completed."
But the Home Office has denied there are any current problems with Tetra, claiming: "Airwave has been viewed as outstanding in the Lancashire divisions [a pilot area for the project] and offers a much improved service over the old analogue system."
The process used to select the police network has also been ruled as anti-competitive by the European Union (EU). The proposal specified that the police network should be based on Tetra, rather than defining a technology-independent set of specifications.
Proposals for the fire and ambulance services will adhere to EU requirements, but are still at an early stage.
Despite the claims that Tetrapol offers superior technology, Rhodri Pickavance, business development manager at Tetrapol provider Cogent, recognises that it may struggle for adoption by other emergency services.
"It's no secret that we're up against it, with Tetra already being rolled out by the police," he said.
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