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National Roads Telecommunications Services project - stealthy road tolls and snooping ?

The Daily Telegraph reports about the concerns of some of the organisations who helped to promote the 1.8 million signature petition to the Prime Minister on the No. !0 Downing Street website against the vague national road pricing and surveillance plans, about remarks (probably taken out of context) from someone who works from one of the companies involved in the National Roads Telecommunications Services project run by the Highways Agency, under the Department for Transport..

There is probably not much "mileage" in this aspect of the Daily Telegraph story - you might as well criticise the mobile phone network companies for also providing part of the telecommunications infrastructure which could be used for future road snooping plans.

The National Roads Telecommunications Services project is the plan to create a high speed wireless data communications backbone, between hundreds of thousands of lampposts. This is primarily for the road management purposes i.e. updating motorway warning signs, gathering fog sensor and pollution sensor data etc, and of course congestion monitoring, and eventually road charging.

No doubt even more CCTV surveillance cameras and Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems will be linked to this telecomms backbone as well.

The idea is also to then to sell spare internet bandwidth to local WiFi hotspot providers or mobile phone companies etc. to link otherwise remote locations.

However, as we have noted, nearly two years ago, in "Lampposts in the 21st Century" there are other, possibly unintended, privacy intrusive side effects of this project, which have not been properly debated in public.

The radio links are meant to provide up to 400Mbs of internet bandwidth using a frequency of about 63Ghz, though technology from a company which holds all the relevant patents, called Last Mile Communications

Their technology partner for this radio frequency band is the privatised Ministry of Defence laboratories company Qinetiq

The high-speed wireless data network is designed around transmitters that operate in the 60GHz frequency bandwidth. Each node can be located in a separate lamp post and delivers data at between 40 to 400 Mb/sec, at a range of up to 250m. Information specific to a given area or town would be uploaded and stored on all appropriate nodes and relayed to the next node / lamp post, as required. It can then be accessed by users as requested, with other content (such as email, news, permission based commercial information and video clips) still being available at very high speed broadband rates - even when being accessed from a moving vehicle. By operating at around the 60GHz frequency the communications are inherently short range thereby avoiding interference with other existing devices and can be clustered to provide defined areas of local content whilst still achieving national coverage.

Qinetiq have lots of experience of Millimetre Wave Radar and "see through your clothes" type "perveillance" scanners which usually work passively.

See "Qinetiq Passive Millimetre Wave imagers for the Tube - fact or fiction ?"

However, just as CCTV cameras (or even domestic video cameras or mobile phone cameras) can see a certain distance in the dark, in passive , this range and effectiveness is dramatically boosted if you have infrared spotlights illuminating the target area.

63Ghz is right in the middle of the Millimetre wave "see through your clothes" scanner frequency range, and so the artificial illumination of streets as a by-product of this telecomms infrastructure, will enable sneakier surveillance with such "see through your clothes" scanners.

If you live or work in a building at a street corner, then the millimetre wave illumination (probably not harmful to health) could well enable snoopers to see through the walls of your building (which is exactly what Qinetiq are developing devices to help soldiers locate snipers in urban warfare fighting, or for the police surrounding a building in a hostage situation)

See also our previous blog posting "The Sun: State X-Ray Spies, secret cameras in street lamps"


The wi fi provider at Waterloo Eurostar was, last time I looked, Qinetiq Rail. There's another piece of paranoia-inducing synergy for you. Worried me, anyway.. (-:


@ John - Qinetiq Rail also seem to be providing their non-standard WiMax infrastructure on the Virgin West Coast mainline to Scotland.


I really hope that your paranoia proves to be false, but I fear that it is only a matter of time ...

But the spectrum allocation seems very strange for a commercial operation. There will be a worldwide standard for Wireless LAN and WiMax, merely because all the kit will be made as commodity items in China. The standard that everyone adopts will, of course, be what Uncle Sam sets forth.

The current wireless standard (802.11x) operates mostly on about 2.4 GHz, with some kit on about 5 GHz (but not widely available from what I have seen). WiMax (802.16) appears to be settling on a range of frequencies, including the two above plus an allocation around 3.5 GHz. If there is any departure from these frequencies, it is likely to be downwards, in order to get greater coverage in areas poorly served by base stations.

So in announcing 60 GHz they are taking a step that the technology has not yet taken for civil use. I wonder what the military and pseudo-military (ie police) technology has got that works here?

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