Public-Safety Officials, Vendors Criticize Lack of P25 Competition at House Hearing (7/24/10)
Friday, September 24, 2010 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
Although most of the industry’s attention was on broadband for public safety Sept. 23, a hearing in the House the same day addressed Project 25 (P25) and the lack of competition among vendors. Public-safety officials and vendor representatives cited problems in the standards process and suggested ways to increase competition and improve the buying process for public-safety officials.

Witnesses at the hearing agreed that more of the standard’s interfaces need to be completed to advance further competition. Although the Common Air Interface (CAI) has been the most fully implemented, tested and verified, several wireline interfaces aren’t complete, leaving less choice for public-safety customers, said Ellen O’Hara, president of Zetron.

Zetron manufactures radio consoles and has been involved in the P25 process for 10 years. “Consoles Subsystem Interface (CSSI) adoption has been slow,” O’Hara said. “Each interface is defined by a suite of documents that must be implemented, tested and verified. The most important documents that define the CSSI are complete. But the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which manages the process, hasn’t finalized CSSI testing and verification documents. So that has delayed CSSI offerings. The customer has no choice but to buy [the system] vendor’s console.”

Zetron’s CSSI-enabled consoles can connect to only three P25 vendors’ radio infrastructure — Tait Radio Communications, EADS North America and Raytheon, O’Hara said. “The other network manufacturers have not yet publicly adopted the CSSI, and thus proprietary consoles are the only choice available to customers of those networks,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara made two recommendations to boost P25 competition. She said the federal government should issue grants to vendors to complete the standards. She also said the government should set a date within the next year whereby interoperability grants will be given to purchase only P25 networks that offer open-standard P25 CSSI equipment.

Tom Sorley, deputy director of radio communications services for the city of Houston, said a better way of delineating the P25 standard must be developed to make it less complicated for public-safety officials buying the equipment. “It would be very helpful if the P25 process created versions that could be easily summarized, for example, P25 version 3. This version number would allow agencies to know what is included as part of the P25 standard, and more importantly, what is not included. This is done in other technology standards such as IEEE 802.11.”

Sorley also said there is a disproportionate number of vendor participants involved in the process compared with public-safety user participants, which sways the process to benefit vendors. He said public-safety organizations should drive the process.

In addition, the P25 process is so complicated, most public-safety officials buy systems without sufficient information and knowledge. Sorley said that Houston has more resources than most other agencies, and the city and its consultant still missed some items related to P25 in its recent purchase of a $100 million system. “I believe that a group needs to be established that is focused solely on the education and success of public-safety agencies using or contemplating the use of P25 equipment,” he said.

Sorley also noted the problem with vendors not wanting to conduct conformance tests, one of three parts of P25 testing. He suggested making P25 Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) a mandatory requirement for vendors.

Arinc is a systems integrator that works with many different P25 vendors, said Marvin Ingram, Arinc senior director, public-safety communications, during his testimony. He agreed with O’Hara and Sorley that finalizing the standards and adopting compliance and conformance testing are imperative to fully solving the interoperability issue.

“As standards have been delayed, competition has been stifled, costs have remained high, and the full potential for interoperability has not been achieved,” he said. “Vendors of proprietary systems have taken advantage of the delay in standards development to advance their gain in market share. Customers have had to purchase or extend the life of their existing system or systems with proprietary features and function.”

Ingram made four recommendations: He said federal grants should be given to public-safety personnel, technology vendors and others to participate in the ratification of the published P25 standards. He said a schedule should be established and maintained to ensure completion of the standards and that portions of the standards be released in manageable phases. Ingram also said the P25 process should be closely monitored by the subcommittee and other regulatory bodies charged with public-safety communications interoperability.

Russ Sveda, manager of the radio technical service center, Department of the Interior, said the CAI development has been successful in driving competition among portable and mobile vendors. “However, we have invested 14 years into this technology and today, we are still not able to design and install a P25-compliant system without significant engineering and customization,” he said.

“Our current testing is based on the P25 standards and specifically targets performance, conformance and interoperability,” Sveda said. “To use resources efficiently, we select specific tests based on the risk and impact to our users.”

The Committee on Science and Technology hearing, the second on the topic since May, was titled “Progress on P25: Furthering Interoperability and Competition for Public Safety Radio Equipment.” At the May hearing, federal officials also criticized the lack of completed standards and other issues related to P25.

For more on the hearing, click here.

Your comments are welcome, click here.


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