Inter-Agency Standard For Mobile Radios
Public safety agencies are migrating to new digital two-way land mobile radio (LMR) equipment that meets the specifications required by the technical standard known as APCO Project 25 (or P 25). In effect, P 25 is expected to set the standard for a range of municipal, state and federal agencies related to law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, Homeland security and various logistics requiring mobile field communications using two-way radios.
APCO Project 25 is a joint project of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials — International (APCO) and U.S. federal, state and local governments, with support by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors.
There are advantages to going digital, especially in case of natural disasters or national emergencies. One advantage is that digital land mobile radio equipment provides greater spectrum efficiency, thus allowing more radio users to communicate with less interference. Digital technology permits the use of a frequency division multiple access (FDMA) scheme, enabling the division of the assigned spectrum first by half (12.5 kHz) then into fourths (6.25 kHz) — first doubling then quadrupling the amount of usage previously enabled within the available spectrum.
Another primary functional requirement of the P 25 standard is interoperability — all manufacturers’ equipment in compliance with P 25 can communicate with all other compliant radios. The P 25 standard establishes core functionality common to all equipment.
From a procurement perspective, the practical result of P 25 has been to open the public safety radio market to price competition and to lower costs at a time when budgets are under tight scrutiny.
P 25 levels the playing field. The tough and demanding P25 standard can serve as a qualification for any radio equipment for agencies with potential links to the public safety sector, including systems from manufacturers now using P 25 technology licensed from Motorola or Thales, and new product lines of any manufacturer that develops proprietary P 25 technology.
Beyond core functionality that includes interoperability among all radio equipment compliant with P 25, each manufacturer’s product lines will have their own features and functions. When reviewing technical spec sheets, however, basic user criteria (i.e., what matters to the people who carry these radios in the field) should also be taken into consideration, including:
- ease of use (especially if radios may be used in emergencies);
- durability (especially if radios may be used in emergencies);
- battery life (via lower current drain);
- ease of programming (functionality increasingly defined by software); and
- audio clarity and quality.
Another requirement of the P 25 standard relevant to procurement criteria is that equipment must be backward-compatible. Current radios compliant with P 25 must work in harmony with older analog models.
The P 25 standard is expected to rule the public safety airwaves for the foreseeable future, and it is likewise expected that a broad cross-section of government agencies will follow suit in purchasing radio equipment that meets the standard, which includes provisions for interoperability, backwards compatibility and improved spectrum efficiency (making room for more users).
All things considered, the APCO Project 25 standard not only defines performance requirements, P 25 also encourages open competition within defined parameters to allow comparative cost and functionality to be deciding factors.
David Storey became president and CEO of RELM Wireless Corp. in 2000, after serving as executive vice president and COO since 1998.