6 Vendors Program and Test Software Compatibility in P25 Radios
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | Comments

Six Project 25 (P25) manufacturers — Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications (PSCR), Icom America, Motorola Solutions, Relm Wireless, Tait Communications and Thales Communications — tested and confirmed that their radios could recognize different manufacturers’ programming feature sets during the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International conference Aug. 19 and 20 in Anaheim, Calif.

“This was a huge step for us since we started this project two years ago,” said Pam Montanari, co-chair of the Radio Programming Compatibility Requirements (Radio PCR) working group. “Now we want to keep that momentum going.”

The testing was based on a spreadsheet compiled from the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) working group, which includes members from each of the participating manufacturers as well as public-safety practitioners.

Different vendors call the data within their programming software different things, so the goal of the group is to normalize the data for easy import/export in times of emergencies when multiple jurisdictions need to speak to one another but don’t operate the same radios and software. Members of the group stressed that they are not trying to get manufacturers to change their software in any way. All the software remains native in the user systems.

“The vendors have been very engaged, very supportive,” said Paul Roberts, division chief special operations, Boise (Idaho) Fire Department. “This is not only about creating efficiency at the user level; at the manufacturers’ level, it’s a positive thing because it makes supporting different model radios a little bit easier.”

Monday morning the group shared the spreadsheet and spent the day programming the test radios with the information. Three public-safety users — Roberts; Dan Robinson, radio programming unit, Michigan Public Safety Communications System; and Ken Link, lieutenant, Monroe Township (N.J.) Professional Firefighters — also participated to make sure that actual end users would be able to take the information and program it into their radios as well.

Late Monday and early Tuesday, tests were conducted to validate the programming and information. By Tuesday morning, all six manufacturers’ radios could talk with one another. The tests were conducted on a UHF P25 trunked network that Los Angeles County let the group use and on an exhibition P25 800 MHz system that Cassidian Communications was operating on the APCO exhibition floor.

During the meeting Tuesday morning, the group’s co-chair, Tom Sorely, asked the practitioners if they would have been able to program the radios if the manufacturers had not be there. All three said yes, but stressed that basic radio programming knowledge, as well as familiarity with the primary system’s software is necessary. Communications unit leaders and technicians (COMLs and COMTs) should know how to do it, participants said, but not everyone could use the spreadsheet and immediately know how to program radios.

The spreadsheet is more similar to a dictionary than a how-to guide because it helps with the translation of the vendor languages and names, said Sorely.

“As a person in the field doing this stuff, I’m going to have an expectation of the spreadsheet and an awareness of what’s going on in my theater,” said Link.

Future Plans

Next, the public-safety practitioners will update the instructions and overview of the spreadsheet, and each manufacturer will clean up its information on its specific page in the spreadsheet. Once the vendors have internally tested and validated the fields, the working group will reconvene and test everything together again. After all the details have been worked out, the spreadsheet will be available to the public.

Montanari and Sorely plan to take the spreadsheet to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Interoperability (OIC) to see how the department wants to move forward with automating the data. The goal is to eventually have the data digitized to eliminate errors from end users manually plugging in the information.

“We’ve got to agree that we’ve captured the right fields, then release the hounds for each manufacturer to go through and make a vendor-specific tab,” said Sorely. “The fact that we were able to take the information on the spreadsheet and make it all work means we’re on to a great start, because it worked.”

The information on the spreadsheet is mostly basic P25 standards information, and the group agreed that updates to the data are not anticipated to be high maintenance, unless the P25 standard changes. If a manufacturer changes the title of something, the change could most likely be addressed in a footnote, said Scott Glazer, application specialist, Thales Communications.

A timeline regarding any updates or intended changes and enough lead time to make any changes are necessary, members said. And naming the spreadsheet or referring to it as a particular version would be helpful for any future updates, Glazer said.

There was also talk about modeling the information as something similar to the National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) or adding it to NIFOG. Montanari said she’d speak with OIC officials about the possibilities.

The group plans to meet again at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in October.

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