It wasn't so long ago that the public at large had mostly forgotten our industry, which generally was beyond their awareness and off the radar screen. Land mobile radio was history.

Not anymore. Our industry is back in the spotlight, making news in local, regional and national media.

Our shared concerns about homeland security and disaster response have once again brought LMR communications back into the public eye. Now the question is: What's new?

To be sure, LMR is one of the last technologies to go digital, and now we can see why. Meeting the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials' Project 25 technical specifications was a formidable engineering challenge, requiring years of effort and exceptional R&D expertise for the few manufacturers able to achieve their own P25-compliant designs.

In the meantime, new technologies stole the spotlight, from cell phones to various other portable hand-held devices capable of wireless communications.

Now the LMR industry is back in the news. Homeland security and disaster response events and issues remind people that two-way radios are critical lifesaving tools fundamental to emergency communications and coordination.

At the same time, the problems associated with the coordination of response efforts have focused increasing attention on the inability of various agencies on the scene to communicate with each other because of the current lack of interoperability among their respective radio systems and frequency bands.

The need for newer and better radios for public safety, homeland security and many other agencies and organizations is today a more publicly visible priority. More of these agencies and organizations nationwide are upgrading their radio equipment and capabilities.

The need for interoperability has in turn stimulated the widespread adoption of — and migration to — digital radio products compliant with P25 specs, which are seen by most as a core factor in improving emergency communications, solving current problems and meeting the necessary requirements going forward.

However, although the original P25 specifications were approved more than a decade ago, the major move from analog to P25 digital radio has not been as rapid and urgent has some had anticipated.

For years there were limited choices and competition among but a few vendors with P25-compliant digital radio products. Prices were far beyond that of even the best conventional high-specification analog radios.

Now it's a new horizon. Everyone in our business is aware that the P25 digital radio revolution has finally begun to emerge in a big way. At last, the future of our industry is here. Of course, not all analog radios are obsolete or even close to retirement. Worldwide, there will yet be many who choose more cost-efficient analog radios for many years to come.

But many older radios are practically extinct. To be competitive in today's market — and into the future — even analog radio products will have to be far more versatile than previous generations, with new advanced features, special options and demonstrably useful advantages that set them apart from their progenitors.

Now the world is watching our industry once again. Everyone knows we have important work to do and responsibilities to fulfill. Once relegated to the past, at last it's an exciting time for us to look ahead.

What's new? Once again we're on the cutting edge.

David P. Storey is president and CEO of RELM Wireless Corp., 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, for nearly six decades.