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North Wales Police gets unified IP comms

Gives a whole new meaning to 'copper networking'

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North Wales Police is going all-IP with a new network that'll put unified communications - including videoconferencing and IP telephony - into all 75 of its cop-shops.

Famed for its speeding-obsessed chief constable Richard Brunstrom - dubbed the "Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taleban" by The Sun - the force says it should save £100,000 a year on comms costs. In addition, videoconferencing will cut the time officers spend travelling to meetings - and prevent them speeding on the way there, one presumes.

The new converged network is coming via a managed service deal with Kingston Comms subsidiary Affiniti, which is replacing the existing WAN with point-to-point Ethernet Extension Services (EES) from BT. LANs at each site will enable stations to operate independently should there be a major WAN failure, and will also power the IP phones.

"We're migrating from Mitel to Cisco Call Managers and we have 10Mbit/s into every site, so we can even offer video in remote police stations," said Ian Davies, NWP's Projects and customer services manager. He added that it's only cost £80 a site to add videoconferencing capabilities, in the shape of a decent webcam.

"The force's Western Division is particularly challenging - it can be a two hour trip across Snowdonia if you have to go to court or present a case to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), and that's a huge cost in time," he continued.

He said that a videoconferencing pilot project there has reduced the weekly travel overhead by 30 hours, saving the force £34,000 and giving officers more time to spend in the community.

"Officers have to do a lot of work with the CPS prior to a case," he explained. "Or an Inspector may have 13 to 15 very dispersed stations and be able to use videoconferencing to brief the station sergeants each morning.

"Videoconferencing in the past was quite clunky, but this is as simple as ringing a four-digit extension number. The users say it just seems to make a conversation more real - it's deeper, like a virtual meeting."

He said that the force is also increasingly making use of IP desk-phones as terminals - key applications such as its duty and records management systems are XML-based, and along with email, they can be accessed on the phone's screen.

"We've got 2000 computers, they're hugely expensive to run, yet the average user only use five percent of a PC's capacity. They really only use four applications - email, the records management system, duty management and the briefing system."

One thing the network does not include is the force's many speed cameras. Its ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) system has its own comms infrastructure too.

Davies added that while there's no plans yet to put webcams in bobbies' helmets, they have been issued with BlackBerrys to give them mobile access to the records system.

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