Transcript: P25 Phase II Data Applications

P25 Phase II Roundtable Theme 5, recorded in Scottsdale, AZ, USA. October 19, 2011

The P25 Phase II 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 “Data Applications”.

Watch the video | Download the transcript (420 KB PDF)


Moderator:  I will move on, I think, to one aspect of that, because one of the things that has been brought up with radios, in particular, is the cost of application, particular data applications.  Data has become critically important for public safety in recent years.  In the past, we've seen this as an expensive nice-to-have.  But no longer. 

Anyone like to comment on what P25 does for data, how well P25 Phase I did data, whether Phase II brings any improvement in it, what sort of applications people are relying on?  I might try somebody in the user side, because I know there are a lot of you here. 

Member: Well, I think my experience at this point has been I can't push enough data over my radio system to be useful in the field.  I've had to go to a third-party vendor for it for the field use, whether it be MDTs or other supports that we use out in the field that have become recognized as such, as you said, were once nice to have.

Moderator: What sort of data are we talking about? 

Member: Well, anything. We are using diverse methodologies now.  However, mainly we do a lot of verifications in the field, whether they be someone out, a license plate reader that reads license plates at a very fast rate, or whether it be the other end of the spectrum.  Considering going to a wireless ticket writing system that would be communicating with records in a real-time environment. 

I've got a fire department that is expressing interest in real-time video to do smoke analysis during an involved fire.  I can't provide that.  I am profoundly disappointed with the compression scheme that is available to this point.  I've often wondered why in a different industry, such as the music industry, we can now compress these files in such a way that we have much larger files, much higher quality files, and much smaller bandwidth than ever before.  And we are just not seeing that on the public safety side.

Moderator: Anyone else like to comment on data, data application? 

Member: Yes.  In 1993, we actually had an APCO international conference.  I was asked by one of your former competitors why P25 was moving to FDMA when it wouldn't handle data.  The answer is the same today as it was then.  It is not designed to handle data.  I think we have about 256 bits in there for text.  It is defined for fixed messages, like "I'm out of my car," or "I've gone to the bathroom," or something like that.  But it is not designed to sit down and have a conversation. 

We immediately said, “We need a high-speed broadband data”.  We went to Project Mesa.  That went by the wayside.  You now have broadband, but the point is, most of the people you deal with, and especially the younger people, sans us old duffs.  They are used to working on a computer.  They are used to having instant access.  They are used to having massive files moving back and forth.  So why do you want to put a data terminal in front of them that will move slower than Methuselah.  And that is slower than I am.  You really don't want to do that.  You have to recognize the system's limitation for a critical communication. 

You need a high-speed data system for high-speed data, and it ought to be high speed.  It ought not be 19.2kbps.  It ought not be 9.6kbps, which is where we are talking today.  Even if you aggregate four slots on TDMA, you have to have high speed.  Now on the margin, there may be places where that will work. 

But if you are really going to talk about the future, if you really are going to have a vision, the vision ought to be, I want to be able to do what I can do at home or in my office or anyplace else and download those kind of files. 

Member: Craig has a very good point.  In P25 and the bandwidth you are given, the only thing you can do is a very small set of applications, like warrants.  The only forms you can fill out, the only thing you can send back and forth on the forms is information that goes in the blank spaces.  Other than that, you have no data applications that are what I call functional or operational that are beneficial enough to spend money on. 

So P25 is a voice delivery system, and it should be sold that way, because it primarily… and during a critical event, voice is king anyway.  You can't have a lot of data flowing at you during a critical event, because you just can't take in all the data. 

What we do need is something that will deliver higher bandwidth.  It doesn't necessarily have to be super broadband, but it has to be fast enough to be able to give me more productivity day-in, day-out on the operational things when I'm filling out a crime scene report or doing other operational things and I need to research something real quick to get those things.  So it needs to be somewhere north of 512K would probably be functional. 

Broadband is nice, but I don't know if we will ever be able to afford it. 

Member: One of the things I'm…quite honestly, I'm surprised about, and I was able to participate in NPSTC (phonetic) stuff and see some really neat ideas floating about.  I'm actually surprised that Phase II is coming about.  The reason I say that is thatthere is something out there that is probably one of the best technologies that I've seen that would be great a replacement for P25, and that is self-healing mesh networks that provide the bandwidth.  It could easily provide the voice, and more secure and reliable voice, communications as in fire ground situations as it was designed out and intended to be that way.  But Phase II is coming about, and that seems to be what we are doing.  I doubt we will see anything like this past the Phase II again, because of the needs for data and needs for reliable communication, connectivity, and intercommunication, which even Phase II does not address.  It still has complete dependence on that subscriber communicating back to a system rather than recognizing that unit-to-unit communications is most important no matter where those two units are. 

Member: I think operationally right now we are still tied to voice, at least in public safety.  You are sitting there and you are doing things, and it is reliable, and that is what you go to.  Until we get to the point where we… let's say you are remotely monitored, so when you… you know, as a fire guy or police person, and you  on the light bar.  Okay.  He has the light bar on, and he is going here, and he is doing this.  And maybe you have sensors that say ‘he stopped suddenly’.  We need to see what is going on, or- he stops suddenly - and you get a video of the plate, push a button on the iPod: “I'm Code 4” or need help. 

We are still going be driven by voice.  Again, it comes down to the other aspect of it is from data standpoint, we always can't avert our eyes to a screen.  We need to keep our… fire guys need to keep their eyes up to see what is going on.  Police guys need to keep their eyes on cars and hands.  So will we never get rid of voice.

Moderator: So however data becomes, voice still has the last word as it is.

Member: Well, at this point in time until we start doing the telepathy thing.

Member: I couldn't agree more that the data on P25 Phase II or Phase I is very, very limited, and that is just physical limitations and narrow band and so on.  But I think there are still applications where Phase II data would still be very handy.  Again, depends on applications, whether we are talking metropolitan area or we are talking very rural area. 

When we go into the deployment of LTE systems or relying on commercial providers, it is easier to do in a metropolitan area or an area that is more densely populated or has infrastructure.  We don't know rural areas.  It is not economic to provide buyers broadband throughout the rural area that is not densely populated, whether it is public safety LTE system or it is commercial.  It is just not there.  I think that in those situations, I think that there is a… I think that there is room there for P25 data.  Might be slow.  Maybe 24 kilobit.  It might be something not significant, but it is enough to send… I don't know, hat is not my area…or a license plate information or look up a suspect. 

Member: Send GPS.

Member: Or send GPS data or things like that.  It is better than nothing.  If you are going to build out the network to provide voice coverage, you probably, in that area, you have frequency availability.  It is not an issue.  You might as well have data take steps further, and maybe see if you can aggregate channels with the technology.

Moderator: Robert, Richard, is there a place for data for you?  What sort of applications would you want in the next one to three years' timeframe? 

Member: It is hard to say.  I mean, I'm in the same ball game as a lot of these guys.  I know there are several former officers in here.  When I worked the road in a unit patrol car, I'm in a uniform, not the admin guy.  There is no carrier in our area, cellular carrier that can provide coverage countywide at a decent throughput.  We have a national forest in our area that is protected land.  Nobody has infrastructure in it.  It is thousands of acres.  So if we are on a manhunt for somebody in there, there is no handheld device, there is no, you know, laptop on the perimeter that has got coverage.  You know, so people come to us and say that they want us to build out some kind of mobile data system, and then we start talking about limitations of bandwidth.  We can give it to you, but it is going to be slow. 

You know, so as I sit here listening, it seems like everybody has the same problem.  We all want…our users are coming to us saying that they want more bandwidth, but they don't understand that there is no perfect solution out there. 

Moderator: You want foolproof, really, don't you? 

Member: Yes, pretty much.

Moderator: I will just ask a question.  If you had three top data type applications in those scenarios, what would they be for you? 

Member: For me, trying to speak globally, I think for all of my users, my fire guys are going to want pre-fire plans.  So they are going to want access to GIS-type date, so they know when they are entering a structure fire where the hazards might be.  My law enforcement side tells me I'm going to want NCIC and FCIC hits, that is ‘wants and warrants’ check.  And let's see, AVL-type data would probably be my third.  So that…if I'm getting out on a traffic stop, my dispatcher knows where I'm at. 

Member: All of that is possible.

Member: One of the things I would like to see is, essentially, a virtual client that has a defined bandwidth rate that the infrastructure, whatever it is, can support so that I can virtualize and not have all of these variables in place, like different applications.

Moderator:  Could you explain that?  When you say…

Member: Yeah, I can get very specific.  VMWare sells a virtual client that has a 600 kilobit per second bandwidth requirement for a reliable stable operation.  I can run almost anything on the host infrastructure, any application or anything.  It is out there.  But…and that will scale down over time, but that is the kind of thing I'm talking about, is you can put together an infrastructure that is defined for that bandwidth.  They can do it.

Moderator: Craig? 

Member: Yeah, you know, I think if we are not careful, we are going to blend a lot of things together here when we start to talk about data.

Moderator:  Of course.

Member: Because, in fact, you can aggregate channels in Phase II.  In fact, early on we talked about aggregating channels from different transmitters, which would require synching to take it from 9.6 which meets the FCC's requirements to 19.2.  And you can do most of the things you've talked about.  Phoenix Fire sent, for years, fire viability plans over their own data network.  I don't know how fast it goes, but they have been sending them for years. 

So I think those are basic, what I would call, predefined applications.  The kind of data I'm talking about is when Mark goes to search the web or Frank goes out and downloads an engineering drawing to move a fill, cut and fill, those kind of things, high speed, high volume data.  And so they have to be separated.  You can't…

Moderator:  Yes. 

Member: You can't expect public safety to carry that burden on a P25 radio, or you can't expect it to be a mission critical radio.  It has got to be one or the other.

Member: It is the old engineering adage, you know, faster, better, cheaper.  Pick two, because you can't have all three. 

Moderator: I just want to know what people want to do.  Because it does raise an interesting question now.  As you know, there has been a proposal to say, well, P25, it doesn't cut the mustard as compared to cell phones and data-rich applications.  Maybe we should be looking at the nationwide LTE network.  But then, you know, are we digging a hole for ourselves?  It has taken  a long time to get Phase 1 to where we are right now.  Are we going to repeat this again if we accept this vision?  Any comment? 

Member: You will never be able to do what you just said you wanted to do with a bandwidth you are allocated by the Commission.  I mean, you are in a dead end to begin with when you are allocated a 12.5kHz or 6.25kHz piece of spectrum.  You are not going to be able to jam 600 kilobytes data down it. 

Moderator:  No kidding. 

Member: It is just not going to work.  It shouldn't be an issue for manufacturers.  They ought to be able to step up and say, you know what dummy?  This is not designed to send data.  This is designed to save somebody's life.  This is designed to save a firefighter in an emergency.  It is not designed to push data.  We are working on pushing data in LTE.  We worked on pushing data in Project Mesa.

Moderator:  Isn't that what, in a fairly contentious way, was mooted in the House of Representatives where they said, look, it may not have been designed to do that, but that is where the world is going?  And maybe the design we are talking about is a dinosaur right now. 

Member: If you are, you are talking about billions to replace it.  You know, it is nice to say, well, we ought to do this.  Congress changes the law.  Well, what is going to happen to all of those dinosaur systems out there? 

Moderator: Yes.

Member: We have a spectrum plan today that doesn't make any sense when we go from 47MHz to 150MHz to 450MHz, 700MHz to 800MHz.  Doesn't make any sense that we have that plan.  But you can't turn around and say, “Commission, change all of that”.  Or you said to everybody in this room, and by the way, you guys come up with the money to do it. 

Moderator: Well, in a sense, what we are really talking about, it is:  we learned an awful lot with P25.  We've improved the ability to support more users by increasing the spectrum efficiency of it.  And we recognize the need for high-speed data applications, which may require some kind of cooperative integration between different technologies, that we are not actually looking at one design, one technology to solve everything.  Is that what you are saying?

Member: I think they tried that years ago with the El Camino. 

Moderator: Because isn't it the case that the national broadband network has been proposed to actually provide U of the public safety communications?  Are there any views on how reasonable or unreasonable that is?

Member: My question regarding that would be what about the rural areas?  Currently, we have radio coverage in areas of our state of Michigan where there is no cell phone coverage, period. 

Member: Part of the broadband planning was to enhance the rural areas with satellite communications where you would fall out of the plan-based infrastructure and then roam into that type of infrastructure to fill in forest lands, rural land and so on and so forth until more terrestrial can be built up.  So that was the plan. 

Member: I think one of the issues, that was the plan.  It looks good on paper.

Moderator: Right.

Member: The question is, is a lot of public safety side is that, you show me that it works.  I mean, we know that you - we know you can push data.  We are still skeptical on the IP voice end of things. 

So that is where the stumbling block is.  They want to make sure, if it is better, it has got to do what we can do now but better. 

Member: Anybody that has a question about satellite voice?  All they have to do is turn on CNN in the morning and watch that guy stand there for five seconds waiting for the signal to go to the satellite and back.  And they are dealing with broadband, and you are talking about very narrowband stuff. And 6.25k voice communications over satellite is not very practical except as a backup system. And you should always have  that.

Moderator: Okay.

Member: And the data system it is.

Member: The federal government took over the ORBICOM system, which wound up being a real fiasco.  That was a widely deployed voice system. 

Moderator: Just to summarize that: you would say, you know, voice is too important to gamble on this, but data is so important now that we need to find a way of helping P25 support these very rich, fast data applications.  Is that a fair summary, that it has become that important?

Member: There has to be a companion technology.  P25 needs to be voice.  The companion technology needs to be something other than break the bank technology.  And public safety is not considered early adopters. 

Member: I think P25 Phase 2 and broadband for me, those are two completely different things.  Two completely different subjects.  You can't ask P25 Phase 2 to do anything more than broadband data.  It is like asking, I like this car, but I like it to fly.  It is not made for that.  It is made to work on a very limited spectrum.  That is what it is based on. 

You cannot provide broadband data for that reason.  You can provide some data.  Maybe aggregated channels.  That is excellent.  I didn't know that was part of the standard, which was a really good thing.  It is not…

Member: Not yet.

Member: It is not proposed? 

Member: It was proposed.  Where it is now, I couldn't tell you.

Moderator: You are looking at this from an engineering perspective? 

Member: I am. 

Moderator: If I was somebody in a rural system, I would say, look, I need to do the following things.  That is all I'm interested in.  How you do it, you know,that is a question for you.

Member: The P25 Phase 2 can provide some of the services asked for the basic data applications.  Now as far as the synergy between P25 Phase 2 and LTE, I don't think P25 Phase 2 should be supporting LTE.  I think it is the other way around really.  I think it is the LTE that needs to be built as a reliable, redundant, broadband network that can be used as a backbone for reliable P25 Phase 2. 

Because your voice applications - the P25 Phase 2 voice applications - you will need a way to tie on all the radio sites into one common system.  So I see really LTE, or a form of LTE, as a backbone for Phase 2 P25 this is the way I would see it in the future, anyways.

Member: As a backup tool? 

Member: As a backup tool.  If you have reliable LTE network, you can have voiceover IT applications. 

Of course, it comes back to quality of service and so on.  That is very much different from cellular carriers, but that is a whole different story.


At this point the roundtable discussion went onto another topic for a time. The conversation then returned to “Data Applications” as follows:


Member: But I kind of want to go back a little bit to your questions on data.  I think we've had this shift in perception in the last ten years where a radio system, police radio system, of the late '90s was almost Star Trek compared to what the consumers had: to have a computer in the car that you could do look-ups on, have a radio system that worked almost anywhere, portables.  And then, in the last ten years, the consumer has passed so much where now that same radio system that was amazing for portable coverage doesn't even work, at least in the urban and suburban areas as well as cell phones. 

Now, when you get to rural and beyond rural, it is a different story.  Same thing with data.  There is a lot of ideas what you could do with a lot of data, and you talk about compression.  Even on those terminal systems, the software was tightly designed to send only the characters that it needed and then fill the field in. 

In today's world, we are moving much more, like you said, to the virtual environment.  I don't care if all I'm sending is… if all I want back is character ’1’, the server has to send me a whole screen.  And we in public safety have tried to jump on board the bigger market of the expanding IT world and leverage all that technology.  And along with leveraging all the advantages we’re also picking up all the disadvantages. 

And if you are in an office network and 100 megabit and it got slow, you bought new cards, and you were at a gigabit.  Radio doesn't give us that, unfortunately, Mother Nature isn't that nice in the radio world.  So I don't know if it is an answer that can ever be fulfilled, because you will never get enough sites out there from broadband everywhere there is mobile VHF today.


This document is the fith transcript in a series of theme-focused videos of the P25 Phase 2 discussion. 

Watch the video | Download the transcript (420 KB PDF)

Tait Radio Academy

P25 Best Practice

Wise up on P25

Download all 5 P25 Best Practice guides Download all 5 guides now

What the roundtable delegates expect from P25 Phase 2

Delegates to the October 19th, 2011 roundtable talk about the major benefits of the P25 Phase 2 technology for public safety organizations:

Stephen Macke


F. Russell Bowers

F. Russell

Frank Kiernan


Ken Shearen


    More delegates »