A decade ago, when P25 (APCO Project 25) officially was adopted as the technical standard for digital public-safety radio, the underlying expectation was that increased competition among manufacturers would drive prices lower, ultimately reducing an agency's cost for new digital equipment.

Many still complain, however, that P25 product costs remain sky-high.

We think that's because competition was quite limited for several years. As it turned out, the design and engineering of digital radio equipment that would qualify as P25 compliant was a complex and demanding challenge, more difficult than many had anticipated.

In fact, when our own P25-compliant portable radio was introduced, we were one in a small handful of companies to have developed its own proprietary technologies meeting all P25 requirements.

Some companies have licensed their P25 technology from other manufacturers. While that may expand the field, it may not spur enough competition to lower prices.

Nevertheless, there are new competitors in the P25 market today, and more competing P25 products are being introduced, plus we still hear predictions about new P25 products entering the pipeline.

The factor that has motivated manufacturers to strive to develop new digital products to compete in this market is the requirement that P25-compliant equipment must be interoperable. P25 interoperability means that all equipment in compliance with the standard must work together seamlessly, regardless of the manufacturer. Equipment from Manufacturer X must work in harmony with equipment from Manufacturer Y, and vice versa. It is a boon for both vendor and customer.

For radio manufacturers, the promise of P25 interoperability is that it would level the playing field. Achieving P25 compliance, by definition, would demonstrate that a vendor's products satisfied all of the most rigorous performance requirements. In addition, P25 compliance would indicate that such products were interoperable with any other manufacturers' P25 equipment, again by definition.

In turn, P25 would give prospective customers a wider choice of competing products, all certified as meeting performance specs and capable of working with any and all P25 equipment.

At last the time has arrived. There are more competitors in the field, perhaps even more on the way.

Now customers may shop for new P25 products by comparing costs. Unlike a few years ago, today there is a wider range of product prices, which may finally increase competitive pressure to further drive down customer costs.

Today you can buy a P25 digital portable radio for more than $3500. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, you can get a P25 portable at a unit price of about $1000, the equivalent of better than three for one.

That's a huge difference. Better hold onto your seats.

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 more than 55 years.