UK Police Told To Text Instead Of Using Radios In Order To Save Money

from the but-no-texting-while-driving dept

Apparently, the wireless radio system that police use in the UK is quite expensive. This isn't all that surprising, since such networks need much greater reliability that traditional mobile networks, but with UK police forces having a capped deal where prices go up even higher after a certain amount is used, apparently police are instructing cops to make use of text messaging as an alternative to keep their radio usage down. While I definitely understand why the police network would be more expensive, and can see some benefits to police texting when appropriate, it does seem a bit bizarre to warn police to be cost conscious in their communicating with fellow police.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 1:53am

    In the UK as with quite a few other places we have a government that wants to cut public spending and "rein" in the deficit. as part of this little things like the police service will be getting their budgets cut. []

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    drewmerc (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 2:37am

    am i missing something
    why would the running cost be more just for using it
    it's not like a phone were you pay per minute
    once the network is set up would the cost not be fixed

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 2:52am

    Re: missing something

    My take on this is that the previous government in a attempt to hide the borrowings (deficit) they introduced something called a Public/Private Initiative (PPI). The deal was private companies created capital items and leased them to the government. So perhaps this suffered the same fate. Get a private company to install the Radio network and then lease time on it for Police communications. Typical phone deal will have capacity caps and scaled rates. So if you don't use the phone much you can keep the cost down. Go above your agreed cap and you pay much more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 2:52am


    I'm curious about a couple of thngs here:

    First, are they actually supplying the mobile phones in question or expecting officers to use their personal mobile? I'd hope it's the former otherwise that strokes me as just a bit dubious.

    Second, assuming it's a providor agreement, do they have some kind of SLA from the network guaranteeing provision and uptime in the "policing area"? As Mike points out the reason the radio network is expensive is (partly) its' reliability. (Ignoring the multi-tennanted benefits of scale etc). You wouldn't want to trust potentially vital police communication to something less than reliable surely?

    Third, since instead it's an additional method aimed at non-vital communications rather than a replacement, surely you still have to provide radio coverage for all areas anyway? Isn't that the expensive bit? I'd assume the radio network was a dedicated network - or at the most shared among services. Why does the agreement then charge for airtime on top of the cost of maintaining coverage? How much does it cost to send a radio message on a dedicated network? Doesn't that kind of charging only make sense where you're aggregating bandwidth over multiple users as in internet/ADSL provision (and barely even there in many cases)

    Unless there's something I'm missing that seems to be a really really stupid agreement the goverment entered into for the radio network.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 3:43am

    I don't think it is bizarre I think it is the right thing to do.

    Not only the police but everyone. Everyone needs to be cost conscious about everything.

    In Japan, they clean their own work spaces, they reuse paper inside the company and keep finding ways to reuse or use more efficiently everything they got.

    Off course this can bring some problems specially for the police in terms of secure channels, but this can benefit everyone, it is not only about cost for the police is about what a person learns in his job, we are learning all the time and I don't see a problem with people having to deal with costs it can be good thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    The Arbiter (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 4:10am

    Now, I realize UK Police are drastically different in operational procedure from USA cops, but this is ridiculous and potentially dangerous. WHat are they gonna txt back to headquarters: "IN bARFiSDGHT!!!, SEMFD HELPOP NOW GETTN A55 KIKD"

    Stupid idea...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 4:25am


    WHat are they gonna txt back to headquarters: "IN bARFiSDGHT!!!, SEMFD HELPOP NOW GETTN A55 KIKD"
    The linked article suggests it's only for "routine" communication - the problem apparantly being that they are charge "per second" for radio traffic and want to keep the large "per-second" cost for exactly the sort of thing you suggest though why a dedicated radio network has per-second usage billing doesn't seem to be explained.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 5:12am

    Re: Curious...

    The UK Emergency Service Radio Network (Airwave) and the handsets on it support both voice and text communication, on a dedicated mobile network, the emergency services still pay for calls and the more handsets on a call the more expensive this call is (so it is cheaper to call one handset directly, like a mobile phone, than it is to broadcast from control to multiple handsets, as with an old fashioned radio network).

    So they are not asking officers to use personal (or indeed force-issued) mobile phones, but rather the text functions on the radio handsets, in order to reduce the running costs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Griff (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 5:19am

    Re: Re:

    The radio network has per second OVERAGE billing.
    So as long as the cops don't "over use" it, costs are reasonable.

    It strikes me that if a Government on an austerity drive can renege on a pension commitment to someone who has spent their life making contributions on the understanding of final benefits, they can certainly renegotiate a contract with private some radio company.

    But as the original article implies, there are people higher up the food chain who don't wish to rock the boat too much.

    BTW, these cops don't expect to text sentences with the new arrangement, but short status codes.

    I wonder if this bright idea stems from the recent exercise when a police force tweeted 24 hrs of control room info to show the public what they actually do all day.

    Given that
    - you can buy secure end to end encrypted cellphones
    - cell companies have somewhat of a headstart over private radio networks.
    It would appear to have made more sense to have put the money into fixing the gaps in the UK cell network, rather than building a new one from scratch.

    After all, there are mechanisms for prioritising 999 (911) calls on networks already, and surely telcos could allow the police to roam on any and all networks they can find ?

    I would think that a police officer with secure cell (with built in GPS & camera) would be a better bet than one with a fancy 3rd party radio that is just a radio.

    They could upload faces, vehicle registrations etc and get route planning info or direct feed from helicopers sent in real time during a chase. And whatever else comes out next year (biometric id, real time ECG etc)

    & this would be a good excuse for someone to make a genuinely rugged smartphone (something I'd like to get !)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 5:19am


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 5:23am

    Re: Curious...

    And yes I would agree with your final paragraph, particularly with the licensing cost per handset per year!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 5:49am

    This is "privatization", also known as fascism.

    Merging of police with a vital aspect provided by a corporation that supposedly runs it more cheaply, but in fact, has incentive to keep hiking it up in a form of blackmail. Allows all sorts of kickbacks, insider trading, tips of which stock to buy, and other corruption, so it's quite in favor.

    In the same way, hundreds of thousands of "civilians" are providing services to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last I heard, Halliburton gets $23 per meal per soldier, and again if they go back for seconds. That's why upwards of a trillion dollars has been spent "fighting" a small country for longer than WW2 against both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And it's not going to end until the public is broke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    mark lampett, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 6:04am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Daryl, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 6:24am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    James, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 6:46am


    Where I am at Emergency responders us a UHF radio system which once in place and only cost maintenance on the system. The system allows all emergency personal in our county to communicate with each other at no cost. If private communication is required officers use Nextel or similar means of calling central dispacth via land lines. Bu the majority of all communication is required over the UHF radio system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 7:08am

    What! They don't have their own network? They don't control their own communications? Love it!! Simply disrupt the commercial airwaves and have a crime spree. They are totally ineffective when they can't communicate. To defeat an enemy you first take out communications, then power and then supplies. Vulnerable!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 7:42am

    "UK Police Told To Text Instead Of Using Radios In Order To Save Money"

    A small dose of common sense would say that texting would be reserved for non-urgent, standard communication. Things like questions and comments between other cops, between cops and HQ, and my favorite.. which pastry shoppe to meet at for lunch.

    Commenter "The Arbiter": Laughed my arse off at your txt example. Thanx!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Steve R. (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 7:50am

    Yes "DRM" installed of Public Safety Radios

    I am NOT involved in the use of public safety radios, so my thoughts are based on informal discussions. UHF radios have been typically open. Recent introductions of high tech UHF radios have added a proprietary (DRM) interface so that the police/fire/ambulance services are locked into the vendors product line.

    This issue emerged in a discussion of what would happen should public service radio repeater towers became inoperative (hurricane for example). The response was that ALL radio communication would be disabled. Normally if a repeater goes down, you can continue to communicate via simplex. The ability to use Simplex as an alternative may been "disabled". Whether this is true or not, I don't know.

    Finally, found an article that delves into many of the issues The Difference Between Trunked and Conventional Radio Systems. The article writes: "Most trunked radio systems rely on proprietary software. Unlike conventional (non-trunked) radios that allow various brands of radios to seamlessly communicate, most trunked radios contain software that is licensed exclusively by the manufacturer. Most trunking software is viewed as a trade secret by radio manufacturers. .... Interoperability with radio systems that use different trunking technology (different brand of equipment and/or different software versions) is usually not possible. .... Trunked radios cost between three and five times more than non-trunked radios over the life of the equipment."

    The disastrous use of proprietary technologies is not limited to the content industry, but to the public sector's ability to use radio communication as well. The privatization of public safety radio system will be (is becoming) a nightmare.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Sneeje (profile), Nov 16th, 2010 @ 8:41am


    I don't think anyone disagrees with the general sentiment of your post. The problem has to do with the incentive structure--incentives usually introduce all kinds of unintended consequences. Whenever you encourage a particular behavior based on a quantitative metric (cost) and ask that it be balanced against a qualitative metric (keeping others informed), the individual is likely to bias the tradeoff in favor of the observable (quantitative) metric.

    In other words, the police may not communicate effectively in situations where they really need to, because of the mental inefficiency the tradeoff has created.

    I was consulting to a criminal investigative organization that was considering outsourcing their investigative desktops. The outsourcing agreement would have charged the organization by each minute of use of each desktop. I asked the executives I was working with: "do you really want your supervisors to begin to judge investigations and investigators by the cost of the use of the desktops?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous surf, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 9:34am

    Re: This is "privatization", also known as fascism.

    You took the words right out of my mouth.
    There appears to be a belief that the fundamental drive of this 'arrangement' is to benefit society.
    But it is clear that it is just one more tool to expropriate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 10:27am

    Re: Curious...

    ...or expecting officers to use their personal mobile?

    Huh? What in the world would make you think that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 10:35am

    Too Expensive?

    Do the British have a different attitude towards law enforcement than the US? In the US, there is typically no such thing as "too expensive" for law enforcement. Anyone suggesting that US cops use texting to save money would immediately be labeled "soft on crime", if not worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    SLK8ne, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 12:04pm

    What I'm wondering is what nabob got them locked into a "per minute" contract in the first place? For something as necessary as the police that seems to be, at best, short sighted. One suspects some sort of corruption at work. Because anyone with three synapses firing wants the police to be able to talk to each other.

    The biggest tactical advantage the police hold over the criminal element is the large number of friends they have with radios. You limit their communication and you limit their advantage. Because random radio traffic allows them to keep track of who is where, and can increases response times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    darryl, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:10am


    The police have several communication systems, they have their own dedicated radio system, that has no usage charges apart from system upkeep.

    Then they have mobile phones, they use the phone in PTT mode, (push to talk) that makes their mobiles act like two-way radio's. But they would incur the standard usage rates.

    I would be very surprised in the police could not negioate a deal for thier mobile phones.

    Like here in Australia, if you are with Optus, you can call other optus phones for free.

    Someone said something wise, about the Government should just not pay it, like health care,, sure, except these systems have ON/OFF switches, if you dont pay, its switched to off..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Susan Quigley, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 3:04am

    Response from Airwave

    Airwave does not believe the story written in the Mail on Sunday reflects the full facts. Please follow the link below for our statement which gives the accurate background to this story, and sets out our perspective on the issues raised. Disclosure: I work for Airwave in its communications function. Sue Quigley.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Amanda, Aug 12th, 2011 @ 4:25pm

    two way radios

    I wonder if coverage is an issue, since most radio frequencies cover much larger areas than cell phones do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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