P25 Task Group Vote Counter to DHS and User Feedback (12/9/09)
Wednesday, December 09, 2009 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
The Project 25 (P25) Inter RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) task group voted in November that the set of interoperability tests for ISSI trunked voice and mobility is sufficient, and conformance tests aren’t needed for compliance assessment. The recommendation is part of a technical system bulletin (TSB), known as a recommended compliance assessment tests (RCAT) that hasn’t yet been published by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which oversees the P25 process. The vote runs counter to feedback from federal officials and public-safety users on the topic.

During the past few months, the P25 task group has been debating whether conformance tests should be included in compliance assessment in an effort to avoid potential redundancies in vendor time and money. The vote is a culmination of that discussion, although Craig Jorgensen, chair of the P25 steering committee, said the RCAT is a “working document” and does not have P25 steering committee or TIA approval.

If the document is published, it will be sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) governing board, which will vote on whether to incorporate the document into the program. The DHS CAP governing board can vote to accept the document as submitted, reject it, or add or remove tests as it sees fit. The P25 CAP was designed to include conformance tests, along with interoperability and performance testing. If conformance tests aren’t included in the ISSI document sent to the CAP governing board, a question remains about whether the board will approve the document, which in turn could affect DHS grants for P25 equipment.

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and Safecom executive committee in September passed motions calling on the P25 CAP to implement and enforce conformance tests. The CAP program formally got off the ground earlier this year when DHS recognized eight laboratories. The program currently only includes P25’s Common Air Interface (CAI) interoperability and performance testing because the CAI conformance standards aren’t yet published.

“I think the governing board has been pretty clear that conformance testing is a critical part of the CAP program,” said Tom Sorley, vice chairman of the P25 CAP governing board. “If you look back at the original documents, in the P25 arena even, it’s a three-pronged process with performance, conformance and interoperability.”

Public-safety officials said they are concerned that without conformance tests, vendors could err in interpreting the standards. This could affect future entrants to the market and whether future versions of a product will work and interoperate. “We don’t want people having to alter their system to get it to interoperate because one manufacturer doesn’t follow the standard,” said Luke Berndt, program manager for DHS P25 CAP.

“We don’t buy things for three to four years,” Sorley said. “We buy them for 10 to 15 years. It’s imperative we get this right the first time.” In fact, Sorley is in the process of buying a P25 system for the city of Houston, where he is the deputy director of radio communications services. His system doesn’t include the ISSI, which will enable users to transmit digitally encrypted voice between multivendor systems, among other features. ISSI products are scheduled to be commercially available in early 2010.

The recommendation has implications for DHS and federal funding, Berndt said. “From the direction I have received, it is pretty clear that this program will include conformance tests. It’s one of the key tenants,” Berndt said. “During discussions on [Capitol] Hill and with senior leadership in DHS, we’ve always talked about three types of testing. For me as a program manager to deliver anything else, it would take a lot of discussion.

“I have to meet the needs of the federal grant makers — DHS, who is providing this money. They have certain expectations for this program. I need to deliver what the users need as well.”

Scott Bradford, chair of the P25 User Needs Subcommittee (UNS), said he didn’t vote on the specific ISSI issue because he is not a voting member of the task force, but members of his committee agreed to submit a letter to the P25 steering committee stating that the P25 UNS recommends that performance, conformance and interoperability are all important tests to be included for compliance assessment.

Motorola supports the position that conformance tests aren’t necessary for P25 compliance assessment. “Motorola believes that interoperability testing is the tool to ensure multi-manufacturer operational harmony and views successful interoperability testing as a validation of the content published in the P25/TIA-102 standard,” said Motorola in a written position on compliance assessments to P25. “Conformance tests, a category of P25/TIA tests, validate digital messages with software-based test equipment. P25/TIA interoperability tests validate feature operation between Motorola P25 equipment and P25 equipment from other manufacturers. Demonstration of P25/TIA conformance tests simply cannot validate multi-manufacturer interoperability.”

Several industry experts said more public-safety licensees should increase their involvement in the P25 standards process and in the P25 governing board. “Users need to speak out to the P25 UNS and to DHS staff involved in the P25 governing board,” said Kevin McGinnis, communications technology adviser for the Joint National EMS Leadership Conference. “They also need to participate in the P25 process. The process is vendor heavy, and this vote outcome reflects that, as does recent activity in the P25 CAP task group to create alternative testing pathways that don’t use approved labs.”

Federal officials said conformance tests are generally included for other wireless product tests. “Why would they not include conformance tests to demonstrate that public-safety radios perform as required by the standard they developed?” said Chris Essid, director of the DHS Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). “We require these tests for all other wireless communications to include cell phones.”

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