There are some who believe that the effort to the create the Project 25 digital radio standard started right around the time the Colorado River began to carve out the Grand Canyon. OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But they have been at it a long time, about two decades. And what do they have to show for the effort?

Tomorrow, we get a chance to find out, as I will be moderating a panel discussion at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST, sponsored by PlantCML, that will examine the P25 standard: what it is, where it is, where it still needs to go and — most important — what it means to public-safety communications users right now. The panel includes Craig Jorgensen, the chairman of the APCO P25 Committee and Roy McClellan, director of regulatory and standards for PlantCML-company EADS and the vice chairman of TIA’s P25 TR8.12, Two-Slot TDMA Standards Subcommittee. They will be joined by Steve Jennings, the retired chief information officer for Harris County, Texas, which is operating a P25 system, and Bob Schwent, the electronic services division commander for the Washington State Patrol, which recently began work on a P25 pilot system that eventually will tie into the Integrated Wireless Network.

During a rehearsal conference call held last week, we talked about some of P25’s more recent milestones. One is the Inter-RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI), which lets subscriber units roam seamlessly between two ISSI-capable systems, enabling the interoperable communications that is one of the most important goals for the standard. Another is the Console Subsystem Interface (CSSI), which allows the integration of consoles and recording devices from disparate vendors. Still another is the Compliance Assessment Program that conducts independent testing to verify manufacturers’ claims that their products are P25-compliant and interoperable.

There are issues and challenges to examine, including the current inability of the P25 vocoder to produce intelligible audio in certain high-noise environments. I witnessed that phenomenon first-hand recently when I participated in firefighting training at the University of Illinois.

Tomorrow’s webinar will be informative — how could it not be, given this panel — and I hope you’ll be able to take an hour from your busy day and spend it with us.

In the meantime, consider this: one thing that struck me in the aftermath of last week’s rehearsal call is the complexity of this standard. There are a lot of moving parts, which has further complicated an intrinsically complicated and challenging process. One must consider that those working on the standard are volunteers who have day jobs. They also toil for companies that have competing commercial interests in a hyper-competitive marketplace. Given all of this, I think the relevant question in not why the P25 standard has taken so long to develop, but how the various committees managed to reach any consensus at all.

Besides, time is relative. Yes, the Grand Canyon took 5.4 million years to get to where it is today. But put into the context of geologic time, those 5.4 million years equate to roughly 17 minutes of a 24-hour day. Ergo, it was far less important for the P25 standard committees to get it done quickly— recall that the original timeframe was 2-3 years—than it was for them to get it done right.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.