Documenting the history of the U.K. Police and Fire VHF Wireless systems, in the period from the WARC changeover that started in 1987, until a phased changeover, starting during the mid-two thousands to 'Airwave' a secure encrypted radio scheme, that can't be eavesdropped.
County Wide Radio Schemes
The 1979 World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC) required the United Kingdom remove its Emergency Services low band mobile radio allocation from the 100MHz public radio broadcast band.
The changes to the Emergency Service radio frequencies were phased in between 1987 and 1989. During the changeover both the old and new main station frequencies were maintained until all the mobiles converted to the new bands.
To facilitate the release of the 100MHz broadcast band, two new bands (143-144MHz and 152-153MHz) were allocated in VHF high band in addition to the two existing bands (146-148MHz and 154-156MHz) previously only used for links between main stations and hilltops, and the Royal Observer Corp (ROC) network. The ROC links were removed from these allocations but retained their 168 and 174MHz bands. A new VHF low band (70.5 - 71.5 MHz) was allocated for use by the fire brigade base stations. Their mobiles transmitted in the existing home office band at 80MHz, but now reduced in size to 80 - 81.5 MHz.
Police main station transmit and receive channels were now interspersed with link frequencies. Having a mixture of links and main stations within one band helped defeat eavesdropping by users of scanning radios. Some Counties used the two new bands, the 143-144 band was for Mobile Transmit and Control Room to hilltop links, the 152-153 band for the Main Transmitter channels and hilltop links to the control room. Those Counties not using the new bands remained with 146-148 for Mobile Transmit and Control Room to hilltop links and 154-156 at hilltops.
By the eighties most Police authorities were using more than one channel for their county wide VHF mobiles. Five or six channels were not unusual, with some channels serving dedicated functions, such as Police National Computer (PNC) checking, or for motorway patrols. The move to high-band VHF from low-band required an increased number of hilltop sites. To save money, many sites were shared between adjacent counties, as a result of this policy, some hilltops had a large number of main stations and their associated links.
Many counties stopped using VHF link frequencies, moving to microwave frequencies that could carry up to 24 individual links on one system, thereby replacing a multitude of yagi aerials with a single dish aerial. These could be point to point links between hilltop and control room, just as with VHF links. For resilience, a ring of microwave links could be used for security against system failure, by sending links both ways around the ring. Two Home Office SHF bands were allocated for emergency service links. 1807.5 - 1815.5 MHz paired with 2302 - 2310 MHz and distinct from those used by Home Defence 1668 - 1670 MHz paired with 1698 - 1700 MHz
The post-WARC hilltop base station equipment were Marconi RC7000 Transmitters and Marconi RC792 Receivers, for the metropolitan forces. Rural forces using Burndept BE527 Transmitters with Pye R4001 Receivers. Fire services used BE527 Transmitters with Pye R8/R8HO Receivers.
One design of common aerial arrangement for the police bands was the turnstile aerial. It became a distinguishing feature of Home Office sites. Using a common aerial avoided the expense of multiple aerials and their associated feeder system. Another design - the skeleton slot and reflector, was employed less frequently. In the photo above, there are 3 separate panels, one for each channel, all on one face, but for coverage in all directions, panels might be fitted on all four sides.
Along with the move to WARC highband frequencies, the channel spacing was reduced to 12.5 kHz, this now precluded the use of offset carriers used previously. Using a very stable oscillator it was now possible to operate multisite schemes with all the hilltop transmitters operating within a few hertz of the nominal centre frequency. This is known as Quasi-Synchronous operation, and avoided problems that would cause null spots, if all the transmitters operated in perfect synchronism. Quasi-Synchronous transmissions have a characteristic rapid fading effect when heard from outside the service area.
Police mobile radios supplied by the Home Office, Department of Telecoms had 255 channels, the first 25 channels containing their own county channels and some adjacent counties. The remaining channels were allocated to a national standard setup, which gave the mobile access to all other counties in England and Wales. If a mobile was despatched to help in another area, it could contact the county control for that area, when out of range of its own county. Fire Authority radios operated in a similar fashion. Northamptonshire fire became notorious for having a privately operated scheme with single channel mobiles, which meant they could not speak to the adjacent counties controls, if they crossed the county border to assist at an incident.
To illustrate the frequency changes post WARC upgrade, this list, derived from web based information published by the Surrey Scanner Group. Showing the replacement frequencies for the same counties as I had measured in 1980 (see previous page) when the 100 MHz band was used for hilltop transmitters. By the end of 2006 the UK Police migrated from these frequencies to Airwave.
West Midlands Ch1
West Midlands Ch2
West Midlands Ch3
West Midlands Ch4
West Midlands Ch5
West Midlands Ch6
West Mercia Ch1
West Mercia Ch2
West Mercia Ch3
The Fire Brigades moved frequencies into low-band but those retaining VHF links continued to use the Home Office highband allocations. By the late 2000s after the Police completed their move, the Fire and Rescue authorities migrated to Airwave, followed by the Ambulance Service.
West Midlands Ch1
West Midlands FBX
West Midlands FBW
Airwave provides a digital service that is totally secure against eavesdropping for all Blue light services, Army Home Defence brigades and assorted emergency responders. It is now impossible for owners of scanning receivers to listen in as they had done for the previous thirty years.
At the time of writing [Jan 2023], the Emergency Services continue to use Airwave, but a move towards Mobile Phone 4G technology is planned as Airwave is unable to provide the data speeds required. The replacement 'Emergency Service Network' ESN was due to rollout in 2018. However in May 2018, Motorola said they expect the Airwave contract to be extended for another 5 years. But ESN seems no closer to being rolled out.