Transcript of the "Scope of P25 Phase 2"
P25 Phase 2 Roundtable Theme 1, recorded in Scottsdale, AZ, USA. October 19, 2011
The P25 Phase 2 Roundtable was a moderated open discussion. Several themes reoccurred through the day.
This transcript pulls together the phases of the discussion that centered on the theme “the Scope of P25 Phase 2”.
Moderator: So let's just kick off the whole discussion right now with a straw poll. We know that P25 Phase 1 was built on several objectives: of being competitive, easy to use, interoperable, and efficient. Now, just as a straw poll show of hands, do you think that Phase 1 succeeded in those objectives as of today?
Moderator: So we've got three, four, five, six, seven out of our full quorum who say yes. Those who say no, pick something out, just anything right now.
Moderator: Who is a ‘no’ here? Okay. Thank you. Steven, a ‘no’, please.
Member: I just look at real world situations, and I'm going to take, for example, the Atlanta metro area, where there are seven P25 Phase 1 networks. They do not interoperate with each other because of either a software version or what they call a rev, because one is 4.3 rev, one is 5.2 rev, and one is a 7.1 rev. And, then, politically there is not an issue there.
So both technologically because of software issues or because of versions, or, two, because of politics, Phase 1 has not met its optimal goal.
Moderator: Okay. Ken?
Member: Same theory. We have several P25 systems in LA, and less than half can talk to each other because of either proprietary issues or incompatibility between the different variants of software.
Moderator: Is that the consensus of the big failing of Phase 1 is that it hasn't delivered on interoperability?
Moderator: Is that a… Craig?
Member: Yeah, I disagree on both terms. I think both of those are as much business decisions, operational decisions, management decisions as they are interoperability decisions. If you understand that the standard is to ensure the technical platforms interoperate, and you understand that it is the end user's responsibility to ensure that the stuff they buy, the added value things they buy, do not preclude interoperability, and there are, I don't want to say proprietary, but, in fact, there are added value proprietary features and functions that people buy that would exclude Manufacturer 1 to intercommunicate with the Manufacturer 2.
Having said that, I don't know of any of those companies that if you sat down with them and said, Look, this is a real problem, they wouldn't sit down with you and try and figure out how to resolve it. I can't speak to Atlanta, because I don't live there, and I certainly can't speak to LA, because I don't live there.
Member: It is just a money issue.
Member: It is just money.
Member: And I think money is not a standard.
Moderator: I think we are going to actually get onto this. We have got the whole topic, right now, on interoperability, and I think we can explore some of that first.
I think one question, since we are discussing Phase 2 now, is Phase 2 going to make this any better? I mean, if you are thinking of going to Phase 2, you know, what is your position? Are you ready to move now? Are you planning on it?
Show of hands, anybody who is planning on going into Phase 2. So I've got one, two, three, four, five, six, let's say seven. Okay. So why? Anyone?
Member: Well, you know, the real driver to Phase 2 is - I see it as two sides; one is for the agencies that need additional capacity and are channel constrained. They have a trunked system, where they envision a trunked system, and they need the channel efficiency that TDMA provides. The other big driver is they are buying systems that they know are going to be long-term. The last system had been installed 15, 20, 25 years. So they know that even with the best of planning, the system is going to live 12, 15, 20 years. And they want to make sure that they bring in as much of the standard as possible now, so over its life, they will be able to use it. So those seem to be the two big drivers on the interoperability piece.
But the questions are really, then, going to come back to very much the same things that were brought up. If I've got a Phase 2 and my neighbor has a Phase 1, how do we interoperate? And the answer is in the system's design. The pieces are there to do it. The question is, is there the political and economic will to put those pieces in place?
And, you know, that is where we see the biggest hole: one more potential barrier that is there. And is there the will to, you know, to accomplish what is needed to get over that barrier?
Moderator: So in a way, you are saying, you are picking up on Craig's point. There is a limit to what the standards can actually lay down. There are some other things. Is that what you are saying?
Member: Part of the main issue is that, from the user side, is that we are using the P25 standard in the wrong way. They are looking - the folks are looking at it and saying “Okay, this is a radio standard.” And when they piece together the RFP for a new system, all they say is, "We want a P25," and it leaves vagaries for the specific designers to help implement the P25. But you've got this, this, and this, and it may not fulfill the interoperability capabilities of what you are looking for.
The problem is on our side, the user side, we don't really know what it is we want. We want a new radio system, and we want it to meet the standards, and we are relying on the outside folks to put it together and meet that.
At this point the roundtable discussion went onto another topic for a time. The conversation then returned to the “Scope of P25 Phase 2” as follows:
Member: One of the questions you asked earlier, about “why go Phase 2?”, there is the 800-pound gorilla that hasn't been mentioned: which is the FCC.
Member: I mean, 2017 is what is driving this. I put my hand up for Phase 2, because we are going to have to go there. There is no question. Everybody else will have to or will only be able to purchase equipment that is compatible with Phase 2 for the 700MHz band.
Moderator: So we have two compelling reasons. One is the regulatory reason, and that is one of the topics that I put on our road map. The other was the increased capacity, and the third one was simply having future proof equipment.
Are those the only reasons? Is that all of the ones you see in Phase 2? Is there anything else that it brings?
Member: I think a major - we talk about the FCC is the one that mandates, which is absolutely true, and probably inappropriately. But beyond that, and more important to us as human beings, is Phase 2 is more spectrally efficient.
Moderator: If you could raise your voice.
Member: Maybe I should speak louder - Phase 2 is more spectrally efficient. It comes with some negative components beyond that, but it is more spectrally efficient. You are going to be able to use more mobiles on the same piece of bandwidth that you have today, so it is more user efficient.
So there is a lot in Phase 2 beyond just Phase 2. We shouldn't get hung up on it. But the fact of the matter is, we are moving to Phase 2 because the FCC has pointed out, has mandated that.
And Project 25 recognized that in 1989 and said this is one of the things we need to move to. That is long before the Commission even thought about doing that, or at least articulated it in a public forum.
So I don't think there are any one or two simple answers to why you should do Phase 2. I think Neil's statement about how you want to invest in your future is important, but you also need to recognize, as you go forward, and you brought it up, as every technology you have out there is going to evolve, and the standards are going to evolve.
Now, historically in P25, they haven't evolved away from being able to interoperate, or shouldn't have. But there could come a time when they would. And the enhanced vocoder is a good example. We start off with a baseline vocoder. We are now up to enhanced version 6 or 7. Significantly better, but it has evolved. And you have to recognize that is going to happen.
Member: I think one of the things that gets confusing in this discussion is you start discussing Phase 1 versus Phase 2 as if it is a ‘Y’ in the path. In reality, I'm sure most around the round table know, that P25 is a family of standards, and Phase 2 are just additional standards. So if you look at any of the enhancements, and I will pull one out: ISSI, as an example, the ability to interlink systems. There are clients out there that - customers, that may be putting in a new system. They may not have the need today to interlink their system. But for the same reasons they may be going to Phase 2, as a future proof, and they will make sure their system has the capability to support an ISSI link. And I think that the discussion changes if you get beyond the mindset of the ‘Y’ in the decision path and look at it as how far down the path you are going on a single line.
Moderator: You raise an interesting thing in bringing up the ISSI. The industry presentation of Phase 2 seems to be divided. Some treat it, as Craig has pointed out, as something that offers more spectral efficiency. Others have said, Oh, that is only part of it. There are other things besides. Who's view is that, that it is just spectral efficiency? Who thinks it is something more?
Member: It is something more.
Member: I really think that the P25 Phase 2 information is available now, standards having been established now, are related to trunking. Non-trunking conventional Phase 2 P25 is yet to be established. And all of the benefits of Phase 2 and TDMA are yet to be discovered. I really think that there is a lot of potential for Phase 2 P25, even in non-trunking applications, that we really haven't even uncovered yet.
The TDMA versus FDMA does offer some benefits that can be turned into real end user benefits for public safety applications. So that, I think, is another aspect to consider, that a lot has yet to be discovered with TDMA Phase 2. You have a lot of benefits to be uncovered.
Member: TDMA, again, brings up coverage again. I am, by no means, scholarly-like, like many of you. I'm basically a systems guy that gets to go out and put it together sometimes. I'm concerned about TDMA, especially in high noise environments. Are we going to have the noise - having an existing TDMA system right now? If I don't have 20dBA clear noise floor, I don't talk.
Moderator: I think we are going to come back to that, because that is part of our migration and interoperability issue. That is an important point there. I think, at the moment, I'm concerned what is the scope of Phase 2? Is it just limited to the TDMA, or has it got more beside that in your mind. Frank?
Member: Obviously, the Phase 2 process of getting an understanding on the user side that the P25 standard is a progression and not a change to help other systems. That is the problem.
At this point the roundtable discussion went onto another topic for a time. The conversation then returned to the “Scope of P25 Phase 2” as follows:
Moderator: I think we’ve focused very much on the coverage and the propagation and the spectrum efficiency side. But the public safety agencies are built around, let's face it, dispatch operations.
So, Mike, what would be the implications for, you know, the dispatch vendor facing Phase 2? I mean, that is part of the whole solution, isn't it?
Member: Well, from the council perspective, Phase 2 is relatively limited to the scope in terms of the changes. A number of the standards need to be touched upon, the DFSI standard CSSI standard, will probably obviously have some vocoder changes. But largely, there will be software upgrades, as long as you have the enhanced vocoder in your console system. It will be an upgrade to the console system.
Member: He touches on another issue that keeps winding up being a problem: software updates, so on, so forth. You know, you will probably hear me say this ad nauseam during this conference, because this is one of the problems that we have in managing the technology in this area, is best practices. From designing a system, to where do you put your sites, based on what? How are software updates sent out, reviewed, approved? Most of the time, the business user - we in public safety - never get a chance to participate in that software update change process, which is all covered under other best practices that are used by information technology managers during these times now.
But whenever there are updates, we never know what is coming down or who is making an update to what, and we usually wind up having to sort out what the issues or problems are when we weren't involved in what changes were taking place. We are evaluating them, we are approving them. And like I said, best practices are missing in rolling out… it was missing in Phase 1. It is certainly going to be missed in Phase 2.
Moderator: Well, what technology, analog or digital, for public safety communications would have a set of best practices? Do you think it should be something that can be specified or standards governed? How would that work in order to get it into the standard?
Member: Well, we have some professional organizations, like APCO and so on.
Member: That, with all due respect, they focus on some technology issues as opposed to best practices sometimes. And I think they proved more in that direction over the years.
Moderator: Should APCO also have added to the standards side of things some of these - some sort of description best practices?
Member: Yeah. We are talking about a multi-level problem here. The City of Phoenix has infinitely more resources than the average community. And that is not a negative that is a positive. But the fact of the matter is, if they can't keep up with it, if they can't see where their future is going, the best practices are an issue for them, then it will be a real issue for the small county sheriff.
Number (2), when you look at the concept of standards and best practices, I can tell you right now, you and other companies would say, “Wait a minute, that is not a technology standard.” You are seeing in the Project 25 process today - and this is based on reading documents - not being directly involved, an elimination of references to the kind of things Robert asked about, identifying which is a mandatory standard versus which is a proprietary versus which is an optional. That’s taking place today in the process, and the reason it is taking place today in the process is you all aren't standing up and saying, “Wait a minute. This is not right. We can't accept that.”
From the industry standpoint, it is allowing them to level the playing field for their product line, and that is a condition of we are in a niche market. We want special things, but we don't want to have to pay for it kind-of-thing.
So there is a real dichotomy that is taking place, but best practices are not a standards issue. They may be a user needs issue. They may be an APCO issue or an NASTD or a federal government, but they are not a standards issue. But it is going to take federal support. It is going to take the consumer to push those people to say, “Wait a minute. You guys are sitting on your duff and not enough is being done today.” And that is not being done today. At least in my opinion.
At this point the roundtable discussion went onto another topic for a time. The conversation then returned to the “Scope of P25 Phase 2” as follows:
Moderator: I will just speak up on that point, which is relating to the other technology, so getting back to Phase 2. You know, how does its functionality compare against something like DMR, NXDN, Mototrbo? You know, you talk about the ‘market elasticity’. How do these compare against what you see in Phase 2 equipment?
Member: They are 50% economically that they are paying. By that, is paying half as much as they are paying for the P25. But I mean, and behind those, there are some other compelling technologies that might arise. There is a company called XG Technologies that is doing a totally software defined radio. There is potential there, but there is no adoption in the marketplace as of yet. But the DMRs or the NexEdges, or the Moto trbos, whatever, they are being adopted by public safety entities purely on economic issues.
Member: I would disagree to one point. Beyond the economy with that, is these folks are looking at what is written in the 2013 standard form. It says that they have to go to that 12.5 by 2013, but they strongly recommend that folks leverage 6.25 equipment if it is available. What we run into is people are saying, I've got to make this investment. I just as well look at something that will do 6.25.
What is out there for them, and especially in the VHF and UHF spectrums right now? It is - although it is not called proprietary standard, but these non-Project 25 standards are what are sitting there. And what is available for them? And where I think we are in a hard spot is that we haven't done something, and those standards, those are generally conventional radio systems. As we are sitting here, and we don't have something conventionally available for them in the Project 25 world, hence a conventional Phase 2 standard.
Member: After I left Project 25, it is my understanding some of the industry - and I could be wrong on this, is that pushing back on the conventional Phase 2. And the information I get is: that they are pushing back because you, as an end consumer, don't want it. Their customers are telling them, I don't care about conventional. I care about Phase 2 TDMA trunking systems. Now whether that is true or not, you have to ask somebody in the project.
But if that happens, there are a lot of people out here - I've heard that question come up three times today, and I've been reticent to say anything about it - but if that happens, there are at least three people in this room that are going to say, what is going on here?
Neil, do you have any more information on that.
Member: Last time I heard anything on the Phase 2 conventional was it was being looked at, but no action. I think part of it comes into the nature of our market, which was mentioned a couple times, it is very much a niche market. But it is almost worse than that. It is that it is a niche made up of a lot of little niches that are all different. So you've got, you know, one of the goals in P25 was this, you know, competitive commercial market that would drive prices down, and then you've got actors in the market, people in the market, saying, I can't afford that, so I'm going to buy something else because it is less expensive. Well, all that does is start trimming the quantity on the other goal. So you know, I'm not sure -
Moderator: Is it - if I can raise another point just on that - does it also represent a compromise on behalf of the buyers who say, well, it may not be real public safety, but I can afford it?
Moderator: Do you think that is the case? Are they willing to accept that, or would you believe these technologies may be actually just as good for public safety?
Member: Yes, absolutely. We ran into a major issue here in trying to make a P25 system work for the fire service. With the way this organization operates out here, P25 in no way, shape, or form would work for hazard zone communications. For 90% of the calls, we use P25 extensively now. It took a while to adopt that because of the fact we had to put two radios in each vehicle: a conventional VHF and a trunked P25 system, in which the calls go out on it. They handle non-hazardous communications, but that VHF conventional is the only thing that works for them for reliable in-building communications or other types of direct communications that they need.
So the P25 - kind of just going back to the original question about the technology or the different types of technology - all of those other technologies are still not going to replace VHF conventional analog in many cases, because it hasn't been proven yet to some of the public safety community that it even comes close to working as well for me to talk to you, for you to be on the other side of a building, or for two or three people to be talking at the same time accidentally, yet being able to discern who is talking to who, with how analog works.
I mean, there are a lot of things that we are just not there yet. Phase 2 is not going to replace VHF conventional, or analog conventional in many cases. It is just another technology that is going to enhance P25. That is all it is doing. If the goal for Phase 2 P25 was to replace older types of technologies, it still isn't there yet. And it won't be there when it comes about.
Member: I'm not suggesting, if I may. I'm not suggesting that it is going to be a replacement. What I'm suggesting is folks are looking at their systems knowing that they have to make, in many cases, a forklift change next year. They are saying, what can I get the most bang for my buck? Although it may not be cheaper up front, if there is a switch flipped on a 6.25 requirement on VHF and UHF, whether it is 20 years down the road, we are pulling equipment out in Kansas that is 40 or 50 years old right now. So they are looking at, what can I use? So here lies DMR and NXDN, all these things.
So when you look at it from an interoperability standpoint, they absolutely have the right to go buy that stuff. In most cases, it works very well. But what we used to concern ourselves with was for spectrums, being able to talk to one another. We can now compound that by each of these different digital standards that exist out there. And the point I'm trying to make is the lack of the conventional solution for those that are saying, “you know, if I'm going to buy a radio” and the ability to go out and basically make two-for-one with a two-slot TDMA solution is not there, they have no choice. They are going that way. They are going with that because there is no public safety standards that exist in the conventional world.
Now, I understand that a lot of it is being driven in the trunked environment, because that is, from a people perspective, where most of our folks reside. But when you look at overall land coverage of radio systems in this nation, especially being used by public safety professionals at the local level, that is not how they operate.
Member: Cost of membership is pretty high.
Member: That is exactly correct. I will shut up in a minute, so you can proceed. But when you look at a volunteer fire department, sitting out there in a rural county or even a mid-sized county, and they have 20 or 30 members, they are not going to be buying a trunked radio system. They are very likely not going to be buying one with someone else as a shared system. So we are sitting here. There are people saying they are looking at, “let's get as much capacity out of this as we can. Let's get something that we can move into in the future.” But from a public safety perspective, we are not sitting there for them right now. Do I see us being able to be there by the deadline next year? Absolutely not. But at some point, we've got to get to that point where we are taking care of that, and we are just not doing it.
So we cast all of these different standards out to these people, you know, they are following the shiniest set of beads in front of them - and in two years, they are going to say, “I can't talk to my neighbor other than switching back to analog.”
Moderator: I was going to raise that point there. So what we are saying is that meeting the deadline and being able to afford some way of meeting the deadline is more important than the goal of interoperability. And we will compromise on that, because that is life.
Member: The P25 doesn't meet all of the needs of public safety.
Member: That is right. That is true.
Member: The fire departments especially are using pagers for your rural fire departments. They have pagers for the volunteers to come to where the fire is or to the firehouse or to the engine. That is the way they operate. And there is not a P25 pager that I'm aware of.
Moderator: Why do they operate like that? Because they do, or is there a solid reason?
Member: Well, there are several reasons they operate that way. One reason is cost of equipment. They are volunteers. Most of them buy their own equipment to be a volunteer, and they need a way to be notified if there is a fire and they need to respond.
Member: Industry has known - and no offense to our host -industry has known about the fire paging, volunteer fire paging issue for years and years, and we've discussed it. And their pat answer is: “our customers aren't asking for it.” So I say to you all who are customers, if that is really an issue, you need to tell them, look, I'm sick of this. We either get a P25 pager or we are going to buy it from somebody else. Because the marketplace isn't making that demand.
Moderator: What happens if…
Member: That is what they tell the steering committee.
Moderator: What happens if the P25 pager is basically not much cheaper than a radio?
Member: It isn't. But the problem with the P25 pager, so everybody is not misled, you've got to have that same expensive vocoder, which is the most expensive component in your radio, in the stinking pager. So if you are talking about an audio pager.
With respect to the Phoenix Fire study Andy McFarlane did, there wasn't a lot of documentation, but the basic problem existed. The problem was that the trunk sites were further from the buildings, and the guys were talking on their portable radios and they couldn't get in. I mean, that is a fact of life and fact of physics, and there is not much you can do about that. Trunked repeaters, vehicular repeaters, have been on the P25’s SOR list for years. But, again, consumers aren't asking for it, so they are not going to put a lot of time into it. ‘They’ being industry.
Member: And in looking at the - not discounting anything you said, by the way.
Moderator: I will just get a quick one from Steve and move on.
Member: Paging today, conventional paging, as we know it today, is slowly fading away like the pay telephone or like the fax machines are fading away. There are no large providers of them. So now a volunteer fire department, they can't afford to put a big station up on a stick in the air and try to cover a large area with pagers, because with using paging towers, you need a lot of them in order to cover the area. So it is out of their economic reach, so it is not a solution.
So basically, the reality is, in the paging industry, who is making the equipment anymore? Who can service the equipment? And, quite frankly, they belong in a museum. There has got to be a different way to do it. That is just a fact of life.
Member: Unfortunately, there hasn't been a good technology to replace what those are capable of doing, monitoring dispatch channel, at the time or just after the page is happening. They want to hear what is going on right away.
I can tell you that just Phoenix Fire and the 20 other cities that it dispatches, they are going to hold onto VHF paging into the next generation of stuff. They have to, because there is nothing to replace it.
Member: How long can they support it, because who is making it anymore?
Moderator: That is a problem.
Member: We run into this scenario many times where customers are looking to purchase P25 system and they want to continue to use paging. And the solution that what we've been doing is basically dual mode system. So truly interoperable P25 system can operate from both digital and analog mode. So normally it is used as a digital system, but if the paging is sent through the dispatch console, it is sent out as an analog page. So it is really, rather than - obviously, when you consider cost and complications of developing a P25 pager - it is much easier to make a dual mode system, which you have to have anyway for other reasons, and just use the analog part to send the page call out. It goes back to having true interoperable P25 systems that will operate in dual mode.
Moderator: If I can throw a curve ball into this. What will Phase 2 do? Because you are talking about mixed mode with analog fallback. What will Phase 2 do to this option?
Member: I really think that the way I look at Phase 2 right now, it only concerns trunking. I don't really see Phase 2 - as of right now - we don't have standards for anything for conventional networks. Phase 2, obviously, will make it even more complicated for paging. It goes back now to Phase 2 P25. You want to make it compatible with analog, or do we want to make it only compatible with Phase 1 P25?
Paging - analog paging just goes with analog operation. If we don't have backwards compatibility, P25 Phase 2 with analog, then we are not going to have paging, obviously. But then, we can't really have analog if your purpose of buying Phase 2 is to have higher spectral efficiency in a trunking mode. So it is completely different.
Moderator: Mark brought up the fact we need to support VHF analog for fire guys, and that is also going to be a problem. It is not just paging. It is also support for the fire guys in the building. Craig?
Member: Yes. Two things. First of all, the FCC is not requiring that public safety paging on 115 be narrowbanded. Number (2) there is really nothing that prohibits anybody from cross-banding to a paging channel. If a fire department wants to listen to all of those pages out on their voice network, the mission-critical or critical-mission network, they can for either cross-banding or cross-patching or ISSI. So there is nothing that really precludes that.
Member: Going back to the question about backwards compatibility of Phase 2 to Phase 1 analog. When I asked that that is something that should definitely be implemented, I'm not necessarily meaning that as a Phase 2 radio being capable of operating in analog and Phase 1, everything at the same time. And I understand that what Craig brought up is that would have some side-effects.
What I really meant is that the hardware itself, what is very important is that the hardware should be firmware upgradeable to each one of those modes of operation. So not necessarily do I need Phase 2 to be backwards compatible. But I would like my radio to be Phase 1, Phase 2 and analog capable, depending how it is set up in the firmware. So what is important is to have the hardware platform that can support all three. Not necessarily on the fly, but as needed, as programmed. And that would address the concerns that you're mentioning. For example, okay, I have some radios that are getting old now. I need to buy new radios. So as a vendor, selling the product - and my interest is to make my customer happy - what I would like to be selling is a radio that I can tell my customer, this is a P25 radio, P25 standard, and it can be firmware upgraded to either support Phase 1 in analog or Phase 2 or trunking operation. So in one product. So that would be ideal. I don't know how feasible that is with today's technology, but in my view as somebody who sells these products, that would be ideal.
This document is the first in a series of theme-focused transcripts of the P25 Phase 2 discussion.