An End User Checklist for Switching to Project 25
By Andrew Boswell
Tuesday, October 20, 2015 | Comments

Jurisdictions across North America are moving to Project 25 (P25) technology. Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology holds much promise, but a recent survey by MissionCritical Communications shows that 82 percent of public-safety respondents see LTE being at least 10 years away from replacing LMR, with nearly 60 percent predicting it will be at least 15 years or never before LTE replaces LMR.

The pervasive trend toward P25 is prompted by the features, resiliency and interoperability that P25 offers. P25 systems are increasingly shared across wide-area deployments to maximize interoperability and coverage while leveraging investment. Following are answers to 10 common questions end users have when switching to P25 networks.

1. Will my current two-way radios work on the new P25 system?
Newer, high-tier radios may be able to operate on a new P25 system, depending on the frequency band and manufacturer. Older or lower-tier radios likely will not make the migration. Radios may require a flash upgrade to be P25 capable. Every portable, mobile and base station will need to be reviewed for upgrade or replacement.

2. What are my options for new P25 radios?
New P25 radios on the market deliver a number of improved features such as noise-canceling and self-adjusting audio for environments where noise is a factor, data capabilities such as text messaging and GPS location, over-the-air programming and multiband models.

Fifteen different manufacturers produce P25 mobile or portable radios. Check out MissionCritical Communications magazine’s Specs Surveys for the latest product feature comparisons. There are separate charts for mobile radios and portable radios. Then access the suppliers’ declaration of compliance (SDoCs) documents at the website to ensure compliance with the P25 Compliance Assessment Program (CAP). The documents ensure interoperability among various P25 products with details on the features tested.

3. Are my current radio antennas still usable?
They might be but probably not if you are changing to a new frequency such as 700 MHz. In the vast majority of cases, the antennas for mobiles, portables and base stations will need to be replaced to perform at 700 MHz frequencies. Regardless, it’s prudent to test and/or replace the coax and connectors in the process especially in mobile installations. It’s also a good time to ensure antennas are properly located on vehicles and buildings — a seemingly small item that can have a big impact on system performance and reliability.

4. Are there new accessories I should consider?
There are many impressive improvements in accessories for new and existing radios. Check into the user benefits of intelligent batteries with longer cycle and battery life, noise-canceling speaker microphones and headsets with strong ergonomics. Many end users like new Bluetooth speaker microphones, which add mobility for users around their parked vehicles.

5. What is the impact on my radio consoles?
Consoles tend to be more integrated and complicated in a P25 world and will require investigation in conjunction with your manufacturer or communications dealer. It may be time to move to a new digital IP-based console, which enables enhanced functionality for interoperability and real-time data integration. Digital consoles also deliver flexibility to run dispatch functions remotely from a secure laptop for flexibility or backup.

6. What about encryption for secure communications?
Some users require their voice communications to be absolutely secure from eavesdropping by third parties using tools such as scanners. Most P25 radios are capable of running with encryption firmware and programming. The ownership and process for the management of encryption keys should also be tackled early if secure communications is a priority for your agency or department. Shared system users may want to move to a single, shared key management approach to maximize interoperability.

7. Can users improve coverage and interoperability in the field?
Technology, such as digital vehicular repeater systems (DVRS) from several suppliers, provides seamless mobile repeater capability between portable subscribers and the P25 infrastructure. Installed in public-safety vehicles, a DVRS will extend coverage outside the vehicle, inside a building or in a marginal coverage area. Some options also provide cross-band interoperability. You will likely need approval from the P25 network manager before installing a DVRS.

8. How can in-building coverage problems be addressed?
The DVRS described in the previous question is a temporary coverage solution, while the DVRS-equipped public-safety vehicle is on site. The permanent solution for public-safety buildings and the buildings serviced by public safety, is a properly designed and implemented bidirectional amplifier (BDA) system to enhance P25 coverage. As with DVRS, you will likely require approval from the P25 network manager.

9. How can we take full advantage of interoperability?
Moving to a shared P25 system offers easy and far-reaching interoperability with other agencies — as long as the fleet map is well designed from the beginning. Start documenting with which agencies you currently have interoperable communications, which ones you require for the future and what mutual-aid channels you require. Also, be sure to update protocols, deliver training and do joint exercises to ensure all users can work effectively with their new talk groups and system.

10. Do I need to understand the governance model for the new system?
Absolutely. This is particularly true for agencies that are used to running their own public-safety radio systems. In moving from your own system to a shared P25 system, you will trade control to gain interoperability and coverage. Shared systems are generally managed in a collaborative model that can initially seem complicated to end users, particularly if the system is being run by a carrier, which is increasingly the case. Taking the time to invest in understanding the governance model and the processes for your new P25 system will offer numerous benefits, both in the short and long term.

Andrew Boswell is president of Nova Communications, a wireless systems integrator headquartered in Nova Scotia, Canada. Nova Communications is a Canadian Motorola Solutions platinum channel partner that has helped many end users transition to P25 technology.

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