Devon and Cornwall Constabulary is facing a two-year delay to the rollout of the Airwave Tetra-based digital radio system because of the strength of public opposition to mobile masts.
The force was due to go live with Airwave for 3,200 officers in the region this summer, but operator O2 Airwave has now said that it will be unable to deliver the service before the summer of 2005.
For the past two years the mobile operator has been acquiring sites in Devon and Cornwall to build the necessary masts and now has over 100, although this is only half the number needed to provide coverage.
A total of 32 sites have been refused planning permission due to local protests, with another 20 to 30 dropped by O2 Airwave before a planning request was made.
Josh Berle, head of regional communications for O2 Airwave, told vnunet.com that the rollout will go ahead but that the company is being more realistic about the time scales.
"It's simply a question of delay. We have to provide 100 per cent geographical coverage so we have to go into areas the mobile phone companies don't have to," he explained.
"We're pretty confident that, within the next two years, we'll be able to deliver. We are just being more realistic."
Seven police forces in the UK, including Lancashire, have already adopted Airwave to replace outdated analogue radio systems, and 20 more are expected to roll out the technology this year.
"That will put around half of the UK forces on Airwave, and with that comes momentum," said Berle.
He would not rule out the possibility of planning permission appeals, and stressed that Airwave faced particular opposition in Devon and Cornwall because of its rural nature and a legacy of poor practice by mobile phone companies.
Superintendent Tim Swarbrick, programme director for Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, admitted that the delay is "disappointing".
"The impact upon the force is that we will have to wait until 2005 before we get Airwave, which is very disappointing for us," he said.
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