Select Committee on Public Accounts Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex B



  Airwave is a national system covering England, Scotland and Wales that will provide a modern, dedicated and fully integrated emergency communications system for the police. Once the infrastructure is in place across the country, the service has the potential to be extended to include the other emergency services—particularly fire and ambulance—to ensure joined up communication amongst all emergency services.

  Airwave is not a commercial communications system. Its whole purpose is to improve the safety of the general public and, ultimately, save lives. Airwave has a duty to ensure that comprehensive coverage is achieved throughout the geography covered by the police force.

  Airwave must site base stations (also called transmitters) in places that will deliver the coverage the police have said they require. There must not be any significant "dead spots" in radio coverage as these could put at risk not only individual police officers but also members of the public.


  As a responsible and ethical company, health and safety issues are very important to Airwave mmO2 Ltd. It is appreciated that a lot of concern has been expressed about potential health risks, often based on incomplete facts or opinion.

  It is very important that people are presented with the full, unbiased and independent facts, not just selective or emotive views.

  What should be understood is that the acknowledged experts in this field—internationally as well as nationally—have reviewed the whole body of scientific evidence on health and safety of wireless technologies which emit radio frequency signals and they keep this continually under review. On the basis of that evidence they have set safety standards—on a precautionary basis with substantial safety margins built in—designed to protect the general public. These standards also take into account the fact that there is still research ongoing in this field.

  Airwave's position is that it is for the relevant expert authorities, not the industry or individuals, to set the standards. Specifically, this is the task of the UK's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

  Both NRPB and ICNIRP set guidelines for radio emissions from aerials and handsets that are based on the precautionary principle. Independent testing of Airwave aerials and handsets shows that our system falls well within these guidelines—typically hundreds or even thousands of times below the thresholds.

  The UK's Radio Communications Agency—acknowledged experts in measuring radio frequency emissions—recently published a report on emissions from mobile telephone masts having tested at 100 sites across the country, where masts were located close to schools, This showed that all the transmitters were emitting at 100s and often 1,000s of times below the ICNIRP guidelines.

  So to summarise:

    —  it is, rightly, not the job of the industry or individuals to set the standards;

    —  this is the job of the relevant, independent, expert authorities (NRPB and ICNRP) to set the guidelines;

    —  these are based on all relevant scientific evidence (World Health Organisation has over 600 studies on RF). Guidelines are set following a review of that evidence and using a precautionary approach. The guidelines have recently been reaffirmed following a major review; and

    —  over and above this, Airwave base stations typically operate at hundreds, if not thousands of times below these precautionary guidelines.

  It might also be appropriate to correct some of the misconceptions that have been circulating in the media and elsewhere about Airwave.

  First, Airwave base stations do not pulse. The latest research from the NRPB confirms that:

      ". . .TETRA base station signals are continuous and not pulsed over time intervals that could cause power modulation . . ."

  Second, the signals from TETRA base stations are not more powerful than those of ordinary mobile telecommunications base stations. In fact, Airwave base station signals have a lower power output than GSM, which is the standard for most mobile phone base stations.

  Airwave recently commissioned independent testing of telecommunications masts at a single site in Lancashire where there is a TETRA mast alongside an ordinary mobile phone mast, a TV transmitter and an FM radio transmitter. Measurements were taken of emissions from these masts at various distances from the base stations and these show that the TETRA transmitter has lower emission levels than any of the others.

  Third, TETRA base stations do not transmit at frequencies similar to those used by the human brain. Some human brain frequencies operate at around 16Hz and the Stewart report on mobile phones expressed disquiet about the potential effects of AMPLITUDE MODULATED signals at around this frequency.

  But Airwave base stations transmit at between 390 and 395 MGHz, nowhere near the frequency of the human brain, and as the NRPB has confirmed they are not amplitude modulated.

  Fourth, TETRA is also not an untried and untested technology. Systems using the TETRA standard are already operated in the UK by Dolphin for commercial purposes, used by the police force in Jersey for the last six years, and have been in use in Europe and many other parts of the world for several years.

  There has been extensive research into the effects of radio emissions over many years and the NRPB's Advisory Committee on Non-Ionising Radiation published a specific report on TETRA in November of last year that stated:

      "The exposures of the general public, at normally accessible positions in the vicinity of TETRA base stations, will be small fractions of the exposure guidelines and will be comparable with exposures due to the ambient field strengths arising from the operation of other telecommunications systems."

  In other words, the experts don't see any difference between TETRA base stations and those of ordinary mobile operators.

  Finally, it might be worth referring briefly to some of the views expressed about the TETRA standard—by people such as Barrie Trower who has received some publicity on the subject.

  Mr Trower's report contained no new research or evidence about Airwave or the TETRA system. He simply reviewed a number of previous studies that had raised health concerns about the TETRA standard. This material is well-known to the experts at NRPB and ICNIRP and it has either proved impossible to replicate in subsequent studies, or the methodology of the studies themselves has been called into question.

  In conclusion, we need to respect the fact that people have concerns and it is right that these are openly acknowledged and addressed. But equally, it is important that people are given a fair and balanced view of the issues involved and that they understand the very real public safety benefits that the Airwave service brings.

The tragic events of 11 September and—closer to home—the tragedies of recent years at Lockerbie, Hungerford, Hillsborough, Kings Cross and the rest all point to the need to ensure our emergency services have the communications services they deserve—fit for meeting the demands of the 21st century.

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Prepared 28 November 2002