www.apcointl.org // August 2012 // Public Safety CommunicationsAPCO Project 25 (P25) is a continuing story of cooperation to overcome barriers whilestriving for interoperable technology. P25 goes well beyond a standard that enablespublic safety agencies to communicate and work together. It also seeks to guarantee thatradio communications equipment is benchmarked for reliability and public safetyoperability, and is future-proofed and, above all, cost effective.
P25 had its birth in 1989 in the U.S. when public safety representatives, regulators andmanufacturers, under the aegis of the APCO International and the TelecommunicationsIndustry Association (TIA), engaged in a collaborative effort to develop a suite of standards for digital public safety communications. When the first P25 standardsappeared in 1995, they represented a new benchmark for interoperable communications,designed by and for public safety users. The standards have continued to evolve as theambitious program has been fleshed out and new requirements added.Throughout the project, the overarching goals for P25 have been to ensureinteroperability among vendors, agencies and networks, to encourage competitionbetween manufacturers and to offer easier migration paths from analog to digitalcommunication.The original Phase 1 P25 suite defines digital radio communication in 12.5 kHz channels.Phase 2 provides better use of spectrum, enabling twice as many channels tocommunicate in the same 12.5 kHz band. APCO’s primary goal was to facilitateinteroperability, to allow multiple vendors’ radios to work together, multiple agencies towork together and neighboring agency networks to work together. But how successfullyhas P25 met the interoperability objective?
Despite issues along the way, today P25 does represent the most advanced and best testeddigital radio open standard for public safety, and it has the support of the largestconsortium of manufacturers.
UNDERSTANDING THE BARRIERS
P25 defines a range of standardized system interfaces: Common Air Interface (CAI)—standard interfaces for radios to communicate over the air; Console Subsystem Interface(CSSI)—standard interfaces for connecting consoles to a P25 network; and Inter RFSubsystem Interface (ISSI)—standard interfaces for connecting P25 networks togetherfor data, mobile data terminals and fixed stations. The standards also prescribe how toperform network management, implement and manage standardized encryption, andmore. However, given that P25 Phase 1 standards are largely complete, why isn’tinteroperability between different vendors’ radio equipment automatically ensured?