Local Officials Offer Advice on Open P25 Procurements
Monday, August 25, 2014 | Comments

Two local officials offered advice for multivendor public-safety procurements, with both saying there must be one point of contact who can bring parties together and address issues as they arise.

The officials made the remarks at an Aug. 3 symposium focused on the benefits of multivendor networks. Six P25 manufacturers — Airbus DS Communications, Avtec, Eventide, Exacom, Tait Communications and Zetron — sponsored the symposium, targeted at consultants, who can help educate and design procurements for public-safety officials.

Steve Graves, chief information officer (CIO) for the city of Richardson, Texas, oversaw a $7.5 million Project 25 (P25) procurement in his city in 2012. Airbus DS Communications, formerly Cassidian Communications, was the system integrator for the project and the point of contact to ensure the system worked as part of its contract.

“For any problems with radios or consoles, that was the throat we were going to choke,” Graves said.

The system comprises infrastructure from Airbus DS Communications and radios from Motorola Solutions. The system also includes console systems from Avtec, tower and shelter equipment from Sabre Industries, Voiceprint recording equipment and a fire alerting solution from Zetron. Under the city’s maintenance agreement, there is a five-year refresh program for servers and other equipment. The city used existing fiber infrastructure.

Graves estimated the city saved more than $4 million through the open-source competitive tender. He said partnerships between the IT and radio departments were necessary for the project.

“You must have really good partners and partnerships with people you might never have partnered with before,” he said. “Open standards equals responsible government and saving taxpayers’ money.”

When Frank Kiernan, director of emergency communications in Meriden, Connecticut, launched his request for proposals (RFP), he received only two bids. One proposal was $3.1 million, and the second proposal was from a consultant offering numerous alternatives, one of which eventually saved the city $1 million.

“We relied heavily on a consultant, and it was a good learning process,” Kiernan said.

Kiernan, who heads the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International standards development committee, said the 800 MHz system required users to be educated and reassured about the multivendor environment. The city’s fire department still operates on VHF spectrum.

During the symposium, executives from P25 vendors also offered competitive procurement advice.

Kevin Sumrell, vice president of utility and public-safety sales for Avtec, warned of bundled packaging. He said initial bundled pricing often reflects enticing discounts but when a user starts to upgrade, later pricing is not consistent with the initial sale.

“Changes to the original proposal always have a cost impact,” he said.

Sumrell said open standards offer freedom of choice. Users have the option to change if desired through a competitive environment, and forced upgrades decline.

Steve Begeda, director of system sales for Zetron, said avoiding proprietary pitfalls begins with the bid specification. He said a consultant can dictate how the procurement flows and ensure it allows for flexible bidding. Avoiding the inclusion of proprietary requirements is key, and users should ask for itemized costs, especially with respect to licensing.

Begeda said any P25 supplier should be available for factory and customer acceptance testing, and an infrastructure provider should have previously tested with a radio manufacturer and have test reports. “Providers should participate in integration testing of any third-party pieces that are part of the overall solution,” he said.

Independent console providers can dovetail into a complete radio system deployment through the P25 Console Subsystem Interface (CSSI). “No one company can be the best at everything,” he said. “Look for a provider that partners for each piece of the system.”

Helmut Koch, president of Exacom, and Mat Schwartz, vice president of engineering for the communications division of Eventide, touted the benefits of system redundancy and storage. Although there is not yet a recording database or storage standard within P25, both executives said they would contribute to the process.

Koch said service and support are part of standards sustainability. “Consultants could work together on that and add value,” he said.

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