P25 Vendor Refutes Claims of Competitive Public-Safety Communications Market (6/14/11)
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
In a letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which in April requested information from the FCC on competition in the public-safety communications market, a Relm Wireless executive said the committee’s concerns are well-founded and outlined many factors that hinder competition in the sector.

“Motorola products implement many proprietary features that effectively lock customers into a Motorola single-source procurement environment,” said the letter signed by David Storey, Relm president and CEO. Storey outlined the following features specific to Project 25 (P25) as examples of proprietary Motorola offerings: tactical over the air rekeying (OTAR), advanced data privacy (ADP), Motorola subscriber configurations and secure inhibit/enable.

Motorola officials responded last month to the letter from House committee members, saying “The public-safety market is highly competitive.” In response, the Relm letter said, “In actual practice, however, Motorola’s use of proprietary methods, such as those mentioned above, fails to serve the best interests of public-safety users and violates the principles of the P25 standard that they claim to espouse in their written correspondence to the committee. I submit that any market having an estimated 80-percent share held by one company cannot legitimately be called ‘highly competitive.’”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski responded to the lawmaker questions about proprietary technologies being used by public-safety vendors in May. The FCC said it is concerned proprietary technologies could create obstacles to interoperability. “While the FCC’s rules do not preclude a vendor from implementing proprietary technologies in the equipment they market to public safety, our requirements will ensure nationwide interoperability even if a vendor uses such technologies,” said the FCC letter.

Storey specifically cited a procurement by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that included proprietary P25 features that “precluded all other manufacturers from competing.” In addition, the letter outlined specific problems with federal agency contracts for LMR equipment. “Federal agencies continue to use sole-source or brand-name-only acquisitions and justify them based upon proprietary, non-P25 features,” Storey said in the letter.

The letter also cited a 2010 FCC filing from the state of Colorado that highlighted problems with proprietary P25 voice features. The Colorado comments were responses to questions from FCC public notice DA 10-1556.

“Manufacturers are selling proprietary voice capabilities, which are neither P25 standard encrypted or P25 standard unencrypted at nominal cost or simply giving this feature away at no cost,” the Colorado filing said. “When agencies implement such voice capabilities into their radio fleet on their main communications talk groups, this removes the ability for that agency to purchase any other manufacturer’s radio with the same features without either reprogramming all the radios to operate in unencrypted mode or requiring the purchase of P25 encryption equipment for all of their radios.”

“My objective in writing to the committee is simple; to achieve the interoperability and the open, competitive market needed by public-safety users,” Storey said.

Questions to the House Commerce Committee press office for information on whether other parties sent letters to lawmakers specific to the public-safety communications market were not answered by press time.

The April letter from House Commerce Committee members focused on the public-safety broadband market. However, in a June 30, 2010, letter, bipartisan leadership of the committee requested information about the P25 public-safety equipment and device market from the FCC.

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