Who doesn’t read Consumer Reports now and then? I do any time I’m faced with a major purchasing decision. There is comfort when one is planning to shell out hundreds—perhaps thousands—of dollars on an item in knowing whether the device is going to perform as advertised, meet one’s needs and provide equal or better value to the dollars being spent. The publication’s staff experts provide a certain level of such comfort when they independently determine whether a product is what it is supposed to be. Soon, it appears, those who purchase public-safety communications equipment will be able to find similar comfort concerning Project 25 radios.

Last week, senior writer Donny Jackson and I visited Motorola’s headquarters campus in the Chicago suburbs for a demonstration of public-safety P25 Phase 1 trunking interoperability. EFJohnson Technologies, Tait Radio Communications, Tyco Electronics M/A-COM and Technisonic Industries also participated. Besides us, the demo—which culminated a week of testing in Motorola’s lab—was witnessed by several public-safety customers and consultants.

Everything worked just as it should have during the demo. That was expected—they didn’t drag us out there to showcase the failures. Being curious sorts, however, we wanted to have an idea of what went on behind the curtain and asked a Motorola representative to identify the radios that passed muster and those that didn’t. After considerable hemming and hawing, we were told that our question would go unanswered for the moment because of nondisclosure agreements but that the results of the tests eventually would be posted online.

We never like it when sources dodge our questions, but what’s truly important here is that the public-safety sector appears to be on the cusp of a new era, one in which those making purchasing decisions will have much-needed documentation regarding which radios truly are P25-compliant, so they can make more-informed choices.

The Motorola lab is awaiting recognition from the Department of Homeland Security, which has established the methods for P25 compliance testing. Other vendor labs will be launched soon. For instance, M/A-COM plans to conduct tests at its Lynchburg, Va., facility in the near future that will be similar to those conducted last week at Motorola. The plan is that all P25 vendor test labs will have DHS recognition by the end of April.

Some will wonder why this took so long, a reasonable question. We wondered that ourselves, and were told that the process to create a compliance assessment program, or CAP, started roughly three years ago, and that it’s quite the effort to get everyone—vendors, the DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which also had a major role—on the same page. Given how long it has taken P25 to evolve into its current state, the three-year gestation period for the CAP doesn’t really seem all that long.

Regardless of the timing, this is a very positive development for the public-safety community. One can never have too much information when one is making important decisions. This is especially true when those decisions require the spending of considerable amounts of money.

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