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Finding new ways to beat the congestion

Published: 
28 March, 2008

Congestion in communications was the theme for the BAPCO East Midlands and Anglia region conference, which took place in Peterborough on February 7th. Dan Worth reports.

Celia Copestake, Telemaster: Telecoms Pitfalls

The first talk of the day was scheduled to be by Global Crossing but owing to business commitments the speaker, Mark Bath, was absent. Fortunately Celia Copestake of Telemaster, a telecoms property specialist, stepped in.

Celia highlighted some of the strict rules that exist within the physical installation of communication devices – most notably that once a comms company has its equipment on a site they have statutory ("code") powers to remain and it could be extremely difficult to get them to go – and very time consuming and expensive. For the police (who are increasingly looking to move out of their current town/city centre sites into state-of-the-art premises) this is tough, because linked developments of this type can only go ahead if the developer has guaranteed vacant possession – and with telecoms, vacant position can only be guaranteed when the operator has actually left.

Since in general the land owner can only serve notice to quit when planning permission is already in place, the likelihood is that the permission will have expired by the time the vacant position can be achieved. Where police authorities are concerned, Airwave Solutions Ltd (the providers of the emergency network) will generally agree to go, but the removal process can still take years – there is after all no incentive for them to act quickly, and the cost of such a move is very expensive. During the delay, this can mean that the police have to maintain and secure at considerable expense – sites that they no longer use themselves.

Celia explained that there is no legal obligation on the police to allow Airwave or other companies to set up their equipment on their buildings. This is generally understood in the case of the commercial mobile phone operators, but where Airwave is concerned, the police sometimes seem to have believed that they will be held responsible for failures in the network if they refuse to allow Airwave on the site. It is however Airwave’s responsibility to find enough suitable sites – not that of the police – and there is no reason why they or any of the other emergency services should not choose to forego any potential problems and not get involved in this area.

However, where the risk is acceptable, and the terms and conditions of any installation of mobile phone equipment has been properly negotiated and charged at market rents, the benefits (not least in the form of increased revenue) can be considerable. The risk factor however, is important; the emergency services should not be tempted to make a profit out of space that would otherwise be worthless, without giving the future due consideration.

Developments in telecommunications technology means that the operators will soon all be able to "network share". This also has the potential to cause more problems if it is not taken fully into consideration. Network sharing will enable the operators to double up on sites, with more than one using the same equipment – so the fact that the sharing is taking place may not be obvious – and the owner is unlikely to get any more rent. Each of the sharers may however be able to exercise code powers if the head tenant is asked to leave. So in the worst-case scenario, and as an example, a police authority wanting to sell a site with vacant possession might have to remove five operators (five times the risk, perhaps five times the expense, plus increased delay), instead of just one. The cost of doing this might well be many times more than the total rent received by the authority from its tenant throughout the entire term of its occupation.

Chris Wright, Assistant Head of Information Services Department for Northamptonshire Police: Managing traffic loads on the Airwave network.

This talk focused on some of the problems – and solutions – that are part of the force’s use of the Airwave network, and threw up some illuminating examples of both the unnecessary usage of Airwave and how to try and counter this. Chris explained that by analysing data provided by Airwave they were able to see that in Northampton, when making communications back to the control centre area, officers would “light up” 22 masts within an area that only required seven.

Following a successful pilot in October 2007, force talk groups were implemented along with new working practices for hailing control room support. This has already seen a reduction in the traffic on the airwaves. Furthermore it was discovered officers were often taking their devices outside of the county, and a map shown by Chris drew amusement as it showed Northamptonshire talk groups being transmitted by Airwave sites from Wales, Northumberland and South West England. Chris said that simply by reminding officers to switch their devices to the national communications whilst travelling outside of the county had again helped to reduce unnecessary transmissions.

Chris also touched on how they manage the supply of technology to front line officers and staff. As part of an efficiency drive they have started to create an automated system which will be used by officers to access spare Airwave equipment. The system will release spares to officers after asking them a series of automated questions over the telephone. Essential information will be captured during this process to streamline audits, ensure security and update control room systems.

Alan Bickley, Highways Agency, Partnership Engagement Team: Traffic Information Services

Turning to congestion of a different kind, and one which affects everyone, Alan Bickley from Traffic Information Services presented to the audience an overview of some of the work the National Traffic Control Centre (NTCC) does to try and ensure the major roads around Britain do not suffer from gridlock.

Covering over 4,500 miles of major roads the Highways Agency’s (HA) role was set out by John Prescott in a White Paper entitled, A new deal for transport – better for everyone. Rather than new roads Prescott said the country would make better use of the roads we have. Not easy considering Britain has the most congested roads in Europe. The HA’s aim is to provide, “safe roads, reliable journeys, and informed travellers” and as Alan outlined, with over 33 per cent of traffic travelling on their roads, this is a large task.

By making use of data collected from operational partners, road sensors and other technologies such as ANPR cameras, they can gather a large amount of data and work out in which areas problems occur more often and try to take appropriate action to counter this. With over 8,000 “events” taking place every month, half of which are unplanned – caused by collisions, congestions or weather – being able to react quickly to events is vital.

A system to improve the communication of information on accidents and traffic jams to both those already on the road and those about to set off. One solution is the use of motorway variable message signs to relay information about upcoming incidents and provide alternative routes around traffic jam together with real time travel information.

The HA also operate the Traffic England website and provide a comprehensive view of the roads covered by the NTCC. This information is also provided to the regional control centres, the police media and other partners. It is also available via an interactive voice recognition telephone service.

Mike Parker, Orange: Managing capacity in 2G mobile networks

The final talk of the day was by Mike Parker of Orange, who looked at how data and voice services share the 2G network.

Mike concentrated on how network operators manage capacity across the air-interface, and he explained how the desired network grade of service (GOS) needs to be built into the business model; meeting the design criteria will result in more equipment being purchased and deployed. Mike also explained how network operators dimension the base station capacity, and that in all cases voice takes priority over data traffic (unless the operator “ring fences” resources for data in the way that Orange do). Mike explained that operators use Erlang theory to work this out, and that by using this data/voice channel optimisation it’s possible to ensure sufficient resources are available for both voice and data.

For times of very high demand – New Year’s Eve for example – the capacity in local areas needs upgrading so mobile base stations are moved in. Mike then mentioned the rise in use of Pico cells, a type of small base station that connects to the network via ADSL. These are intended to provide coverage to small offices and they are capable of both voice/data transmission. In the QA section when the potential for their use in the London Underground was suggested, Mike stated that currently there are no plans to provide coverage into the entire network, however Orange is talking to train operators about deploying Pico cells in stations.

The companies that exhibited were: APD Communications, Arqiva, Autopage Solutions, Cavendish, Cyfas, Imass, Microbus, PJ & RHS Ltd, Stratus, Sungard.





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