An increasing number of public-safety agencies—particularly those with smaller budgets and/or located in rural areas—are opting for land-mobile-radio technologies other than P25, according to John Lenihan, chairman of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) interoperability committee.

During last week’s NPSTC meeting, Lenihan said the interoperability working group is “following the increased use of non-P25 digital formats” by public-safety agencies that cannot afford to buy P25 systems and subscriber radios.

“It just seems to be that, as grant money dries up, there’s no longer federal money for subscriber units,” Lenihan said during the NPSTC meeting. “Especially the small agencies and rural agencies are opting for less-expensive versions of radios that meet their day-to-day needs. The obvious problem with that is going to be interoperability.”

In the United States, the public-safety community has designated P25 as its land-mobile-radio (LMR) standard in an effort to enable interoperability and—eventually—lower prices for the network infrastructure and subscriber equipment.

To help support the interoperability goal, many federal grants for public-safety communications—relatively plentiful in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks—stipulated that agencies building new radio systems must build a P25 system to qualify for grant funding. But federal grants to fund public-safety LMR systems have decreased through during the past decade, particularly after the global economic crisis of 2008 and the decision to fund the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Without federal funding and a P25 mandate, a growing number of public-safety agencies are opting to use other digital LMR technologies rather than P25, which typically is significantly more expensive, Lenihan said.

“It’s especially prevalent in smaller departments in rural areas that did not take advantage of grant programs,” Lenihan said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “What we’re hearing is that the sales people at radio manufacturers are showing them [public-safety agencies] their inexpensive models and saying, ‘Why are you spending this money [for P25]? It’s coming out of your pocket.’ There’s no grant money available now for subscriber units; we pretty much cut that off a number of years ago.

“So, when [funding] is coming out of your pocket—just like it is with airline seats—people tend to gravitate toward the cheaper without necessary consideration for the consequences.”