A new digitalised form of radio communications being piloted by the Gardaí may cause distortion in heart pacemakers and other life-saving equipment, according to research by a British government safety regulator.
The system, which is intended to replace the current Garda Radio Network, is costing about €5m in its pilot stage.
If the replacement project is followed through and rolled out across the country in 2003, it will cost in the region of €100m.
Speaking to siliconrepublic.com, a Garda spokesman said the Tetra standard design, which has been in pilot use in the Dublin metropolitan area since January, conforms to the requirements of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
He added that the pilot was in its final stages of evaluation and said the force was in ongoing contact with its own medical director and health and safety representatives with regard to its potential health effects.
The spokesman explained that a new system was found to be necessary to provide better and clearer radio communication, which is secure from external monitoring.
Operating at a frequency of 400MHz, the Tetra device is much harder to intercept than is the case with the current system.
“There would be times when a house was being searched and we would find radios under the bed tuned into the Gardaí,” he continued.
However, for the same reason, it is harder to filter out and is therefore likely to cause interference in other machines.
The handset device provides instant access to data from the Garda Pulse System, providing a raft of information such as car registration, names and addresses. Among the other features displayed by the device are in-built safety mechanisms, including a panic button.
However, the Medical Devices Agency in Britain says the handsets interfere with medical equipment from as far away as three metres. It also claims that in half of these cases the effect would have had a “direct impact on patient care” and could have fatal consequences.
A spokesperson for The Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulator (ODTR) told siliconrepublic.com that there is no licence for Tetra at present.
She said that there had been a competition for the contract in October of 2000, but no compliant bid had been received.
The spokesperson emphasised that there is currently no network for the system in place in the country.
She added that as yet the ODTR has not seen the report, but would review the situation as it becomes more informed.
The contract for the pilot scheme was awarded to Nokia.
The report will be published on Saturday in the latest edition of New Scientist magazine.
By Suzanne Byrne