Land mobile radio is one of the last communications technologies to migrate from analog to digital technology. Why has it taken so long? One reason is that LMR technology is a world unto itself, with complexities all its own. Re-engineering basic infrastructure from analog to digital has been a formidable challenge, to say the least.

APCO Project 25 has been a long time in development, true. But its purpose was — and is — to set the common standard for public-safety radio communications well into the future.

Critical requirements needed to be defined to address the specific needs of public-safety communications professionals. These requirements included greater spectrum efficiency, which would accommodate the ever-increasing population of two-way radio users, and interoperability, which would allow all radios in compliance with the P25 standard to work together in seamless harmony, regardless of the equipment manufacturer.

For the LMR manufacturer, product development of digital radios in full compliance with all P25 specs was likewise a demanding task. Development took longer than many had expected.

A few years ago, conventional wisdom held that small companies shouldn't even try to develop and bring to market P25-compliant digital products. The anticipated costs and engineering requirements were considered daunting, and there was no guarantee of success.

What seems to be holding back the mass migration of public-safety agencies from analog to digital P25 radios?

In many cases, it's a matter of higher costs (and tight budgets). Digital P25 radios can cost several times more than the same manufacturer's analog radios. Also, historically there have been only a limited number of competitors with compliant equipment.

Today there are more digital radio products in the P25 marketplace than ever before, and competitive pressures are reducing prices. Meanwhile, more agencies are acquiring two-way radio equipment that complies with the P25 standard. There are more sellers and buyers.

As a result, a public-safety or homeland security agency can buy a fully compliant P25 radio for half or even a third the cost of the high-priced models, or conversely, buy two or three digital radios for the cost of only one of the radios near the top of the price curve.

The convergence of these factors is the reason behind the acceleration of the migration from analog to P25 digital radios.

David P. Storey is president and chief executive officer of RELM Wireless, a manufacturer and marketer of mobile radio equipment for public-safety and government agencies, as well as business-band radios serving a wide range of commercial applications.