House Hearing Discusses Status of P25, Voice Interoperability (6/1/10)
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 | Comments

Federal officials and vendor representatives disagreed on the status and success of public-safety communications standards and compliance in testimony last week in a House hearing on interoperability of public-safety communications equipment.

Federal officials noted that comprehensive standards do not yet exist, because the systems and the range of standards required are complex.

Dereck Orr, program manager for the public-safety communications systems for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), said lack of finalized standards is one of four main issues with Project 25 (P25) hampering progress toward seamless interoperability and open competition.

“Only the conventional portion of the Common Air Interface (CAI) and the Inter-RF-Subsystem Interface (ISS) have a completed suite of documents,” said Orr in his testimony. “The more complex trunked CAI continues to lack conformance test documents — crucial for uniform implementation — although trunked CAI products have been sold for almost a decade. The remaining six interfaces are in various states of document completion. Therefore, since its inception in 1989, one and a half of the eight interfaces have been completed.”

Orr said the other reasons for lack of interoperability are that only a portion of P25 systems are standards based, it isn’t clear to public-safety agencies what a P25 system entails and there is no industry-led formal compliance assessment program.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) certifies testing laboratories and specifies which tests must be conducted. CAP is a voluntary process for P25 equipment suppliers to show that their equipment meets P25 standards for performance, conformance and interoperability. However, conformance assessment testing is not currently required, nor do CAP requirements exist for all eight interfaces.

“Therefore, it should be noted that the resulting program is a minimalistic compliance assessment program,” Orr said. “It does not rise to the level of rigor imposed by the wireless technologies mentioned above or that of the European public-safety communications standard, TETRA.”

Dr. David Boyd, director of the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said existing public-safety communications infrastructure in the United States represents, conservatively, an investment of more than $100 billion for voice systems hardware alone.

“The most important question for the first responders who rely on this equipment is ‘does it work?’ In addition to being mission-critical technology, these systems represent major expenditures for government agencies across the country,” said Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation Chairman David Wu. “Particularly at a time of uncertain and dwindling budgets, cost-effective procurement enabled by an open architecture is essential. It is important that the standards development process move forward, and that the public-safety community and industry continue to work together to make further advances in first responder technology.”

“One option to optimize resource effectiveness and eventually realize nationwide interoperability is a system-of-systems approach,” Boyd said. “The approach would allow separate agencies to join together using standards, compatible procedures and training exercises without having to use their own equipment to respond to an incident anywhere in the nation. Furthermore, the system-of-systems approach is more robust — it eliminates the risk that one failed technology or link will cause the entire system to fail.”

Dr. Ernest L Hofmeister, senior scientist at Harris, said the P25 community has made strong progress in meeting each of the cited original P25 goals. Those goals include enabling interoperability of systems and networks and of radios and infrastructure, competition among vendors, spectrum efficiency, graceful migration of legacy systems and user-friendly equipment.

John Muench, director of business development at Motorola, agreed with Hofmeister. “Significant progress has been made with respect to P25 standards development,” Muench said. “The original P25 goals, created by the public-safety community, have been met, and additional standards work continues for new technology and features.”

A 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticized the slow Project 25 standards process, noting that it took the P25 standards committees took four years, 1989 – 1993, to develop the CAI, but that the committees developed no additional standards from 1993 – 2005 that could be used by manufacturers for additional elements of a P25-compliant system. The report also said that tests conducted from 2003 – 2006 showed that inconsistent interpretations caused P25 radios to fail aspects of interoperability tests.

Safecom’s recommended guidance for federal grant programs requires that grant applicants using DHS funds to purchase P25 equipment must obtain Supplier’s Declaration of Compliance (SDoC) documents and summary test reports (STR) from the CAP program when they purchase the equipment. DHS also provides a website ( where manufacturers can post these documents.

Chief Jeffrey D. Johnson, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) said that while interoperability is important, mission-critical operability is of greater importance. “Without operability, there is no interoperability,” he said. Johnson and Muench also used the hearing to request that the 700 MHz D block spectrum be given to public safety.

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