New tests to assess digital-radio performance in fireground-noise environments have been delayed until the spring, according to an official participating in the process.

D.J. Atkinson, lead electronics engineer for Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR), said his unit — a joint effort of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Institute of Telecommunications Services (ITS) — likely will conduct the tests in April. Late last year, Atkinson said he hoped the testing would occur this month, but an extended comment period has delayed the start of testing by at least two months.

“The week before Christmas, I got an e-mail saying, ‘We need more time to comment on this,’ and we’re still [trying to resolve] some of those things,” Atkinson said.

Two years ago, the same lab conducted tests that showed that some digital radios did not perform as well as analog radios in certain fireground environments. The test results became a source of controversy within the fire community, with some fire departments demanding that they be allowed to use analog equipment instead of newer digital equipment.

New aspects of the testing will include an assessment of DVSI’s latest vocoder release, which has been designed to help mitigate noise issues caused by personal alerting safety system (PASS) alarms, Atkinson said. In addition, multiple PASS alarms and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) masks will be tested.

During the past year, some vendors have demonstrated the impact that noise-cancellation technologies embedded in high-end LMR radios can have on resolving the fireground-noise issue. Atkinson said the noise-cancelling features would not be tested in the spring.

“If we did that in this test, it would grow so large it would be unmanageable,” he said.