APCO Project 25, or P25, standards exist, but some public-safety agencies are frustrated at a lack of independent testing for P25 equipment, forcing groups to develop their own procedures to verify gear.

“I don't believe there is a certification mark of the P25 product,” said Bill Belt, director of the wireless division at the Telecommunication Industry Association. “But this is way beyond the scope that TIA is involved.” As an industry-sponsored organization, TIA is responsible for bringing manufacturers and users together to develop standards, not to verify that manufacturers are meeting those standards.

Officials from the Wyoming Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Interior's National Interagency Fire Center shared their experience at a half-day forum presented at a IWCE 2005 session sponsored by the Project 25 Technology Interest Group last month in Las Vegas.

“There is no process to certify P25 gear so it meets set standards,” said Tom Mahon, project manager for Wyolink, Wyoming's statewide public-safety communication system. “We had to use the NTIA labs in Denver and evaluate [handset] test articles from vendors.”

Mahon had to develop a detailed process from scratch for test lab verification and said Wyoming's experience points to the need for an independent test lab to verify P25 compliance. Compatibility testing and documentation of test procedures were necessary for a detailed vendor request for proposal that could be used by local and state agencies wishing to buy P25 subscriber terminals certified to work with the Wyolink network.

The Wyoming DOT is responsible for building and for the initial operation of the Wyolink P25 network. It will consist of 57 VHF sites around the state linked through Wyoming's DOT microwave backbone. Construction is expected to take six years. Once complete, Wyolink is expected to provide interoperability across local, state and federal agencies. It also will expand mobile radio coverage from 83% to 95% of the state. Individual agencies must purchase their own P25 handsets to be in the system.

P25 could get a trial by fire this summer from the National Interagency Fire Center. Located in Boise, Idaho, NIFC maintains a cache of 6000 to 8000 radios to support wildland firefighting efforts and other national incidents requiring communications resources.

“We have not yet put a full incident or fire in digital [radio] mode, but we hope to do that this summer,” said Stephen German, an electrical engineer overseeing NIFC's move into P25. “Before, we didn't even have a [radio] certification process, but now we have a fire certification.”

German said once P25 was brought into NIFC, users distrusted the new technology and demanded a fire certification process for the new equipment. Before, if an analog radio met the minimum procurement specs and it worked, firefighters used it in the field. NIFC embarked on a thorough field-testing regimen, comparing P25 digital coverage and operation to analog radios in well-understood desert and forest environments. After the initial testing, P25 radios have been gradually worked into operations still using analog equipment.

NIFC is engaging in a second round of in-depth testing above the Department of Interior's initial contract specifications, focusing on vendor implementation of all of P25 features.

“Some features have fallen between the cracks,” said German, including more esoteric capabilities in the radio including NAC codes $F7E and $F7F, Talk Group $0 and Busy Channel Locked.