Headlines: September 20th, 2001

Britain’s police forces are about to take a major leap forward in their personal communications.They’re about to see the national roll-out of a new digital radio communications system which offers improved coverage and much better quality of sound.

The handsets can be tracked so that officers’ and vehicles’ locations are known at all times, and messages can be scrambled so that criminals cannot overhear what is said.

Longer term the equipment will allow officers direct access to local and national databases including the Police National Computer.

The BT Airwave package has been piloted at Lancashire Constabulary since March this year, and used in live situations by around 2,500 officers.

The approval of the kit by the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) gives the green light to the national roll-out for Airwave and wins BT its biggest ever contract, valued at 2.9bn pounds.

Greater Manchester Police will be the next force to take the system and the system should be up and running well in time for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Suffolk, North Yorkshire. Leicestershire and West Mercia Police are also in the next wave.

Under the terms of its contract with PITO, BT will provide a radio service to every police force across the UK by 2005, when the government plans to withdraw the existing radio frequencies used by the police. BT is responsible for building and managing the national service throughout its 15-year contract.