LAS VEGAS — For the past two decades, the public-safety community has eagerly anticipated the day when adoption of the P25 would enable interoperability and that the standard would drive competition among vendors to develop products with myriad price points and feature sets.

While the process has taken longer than most wanted, that vision is becoming a reality. P25 is being adopted, which should provide a technical basis for interoperability (it doesn't address the operational/political issues that often are bigger barriers), and there are a host of vendors offering a wide variety of products in what appears to be a healthy competitive environment.

With so many choices available, why are some P25 contracts still being sole sourced? A knee-jerk reaction is to assume some political favoritism, but the more likely reasons include a desire for a smooth migration and a desire to maintain existing interoperability agreements.

A prime example exists in the Washington, D.C., regional area. First-responder agencies in the region have gone to great lengths to establish interoperable communications and use proprietary radio systems from a single vendor, Motorola.

Now, when a public-safety entity within this region decides to move to P25, it can run into a rather odd scenario: by migrating to P25 — the national interoperability standard — the entity runs the risk of losing the existing level interoperability.

"If they went with straight P25-only equipment, they would lose the current interoperability that they have," Scott Glazer, Liberty product applications specialist for Thales Communications, said during an interview with Urgent Communications. "That's one thing we're trying to look at to see how we can help them, but we haven't completely got that solution yet."

In addition, most public-safety entities moving from a proprietary system to a P25 system would like to be able to buy subscriber units that can operate on both networks to make the transition easier and less costly.

As a result, P25 radio vendors like Thales may find themselves unable to submit P25 bids on systems migrating from a proprietary architecture. Many in the public-safety community have clamored for big players like Motorola and Tyco Electronics M/A-COM to begin licensing proprietary waveforms or protocols to third-party vendors such as Thales, so agencies can choose between vendors.

Most industry sources have questioned whether Motorola and Tyco would be willing to allow such licensing, because such an approach could reduce their market shares. But Glazer said it's more complicated than that, noting that his company really has not yet been given the necessary incentive to really push the licensing issue for the multiband Liberty radio line.

"We're very much open to being able to put some of those [proprietary protocols] in it," Glazer said. "It's like a lot of other things — we get a lot of people talking about it and kicking the tires, but we've yet to have someone say, 'We definitely want it. We 100% would be getting it from you it we had it,' for us to change directions and slow down what we're doing to include those."

That's certainly an understandable position, particularly in an economic climate that requires companies to focus their resources on core issues and profitability. However, until there are clear incentives for big players like Motorola/Tyco Electronics and third-party vendors like Thales/Harris to pursue cross-licensing agreements, many public-safety entities may find their choices limited when making the migration to P25.