As 2011 comes to a close, so does my stint with Urgent Communications. I will begin in January a new journey as an analyst covering the wireless telecom space for the firm Current Analysis.

The fine folks at Urgent Communications have let me write for the publication, in its various print and electronic incarnations, for the last eight years. It’s been quite an educational journey, watching the public-safety industry move from an RF-driven sector to one that is poised to leverage the commercial advantages of LTE technology. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Indeed, coming from more of a commercial mobile technology background, it has been fascinating for me to see how the broadband revolution already has transformed public-safety communications — from Wi-Fi mesh video surveillance to smartphone apps that track first responders and provide vital alerts to citizenry in times of crisis.

Of course, the fundamental problem remains — that various public-safety jurisdictions still can’t talk to each other. Unfortunately, it has taken major disasters to highlight the radio incompatibility issues that have plagued the first-responder community for so long. First among these are the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, which served as a trigger point that finally placed a much heavier emphasis on rolling out Project 25–compliant systems city-, state- and nationwide under the guise of homeland security.

We’re finally seeing traction. For example, the introduction of the RF Sub-system Interface standard (ISSI) is expected to propel the P25 standard significantly closer to the equipment interoperability goal — though as UC Senior Writer Donny Jackson pointed out in the November print editions, adoption has been slow to date.

Nevertheless, the ISSI enables two or more trunked P25 networks to be connected at the network layer to enable roaming across multiple networks while allowing dispatchers to communicate with users outside of their home network coverage areas. Products based on ISSI offer even more benefits to the public-safety community, because they allow networks and radios from various manufacturers to interconnect via a common standardized interface. And public-safety folks themselves have had more direct involvement in the process.

A further interoperability boon is the fact that P25 subscriber compliance testing is now established by the Department of Homeland Security’s P25 Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) — a voluntary program managed in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Office of Law Enforcement Standards and a coalition of emergency responders and communications equipment manufacturers.

It's a big deal. The burden always has been on the buyer to determine that the equipment they are purchasing does what it's supposed to do in the field.

Will true interoperability ever be realized? The best bet is in the LTE world, but many details are still up in the air, not the least of which is pending D Block legislation that appears to be in limbo at this point. The public-safety industry also has a lot of decisions to make in terms of how to tailor LTE for public safety and whether the changes will hurt economies of scale. So far, we haven’t seen droves of vendors entering the public-safety LTE space.

At any rate, I’ll still be watching with interest.

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