How to buy Project 25 radios
When it comes to selecting P25 radios and related products/services, public safety agencies need to consider three factors before purchasing
By James Careless, P1 Contributor
The land mobile radio is possibly the most important tool public safety uses. It’s the primary means of public safety dispatch and the source of ongoing communications during events. Because this radio serves so many roles, agencies owe it to their personnel to carefully research all of their options prior to purchasing land mobile radios.
All Project 25 (P25) radios are built to be interoperable with each other no matter who manufactured them. This is why P25 radios are the communication systems of choice for public safety. These radios ensure that police, fire and EMS can always talk to each other; both locally and across jurisdictional lines.
This said, not all P25 radios are created equal; nor are the manufacturers/vendors who sell them. Though many equipment vendors sell radios that meet P25 standards, agencies selecting such equipment should consider three factors upfront before making a purchase.
1. Review available features
When it comes to buying P25 radios, there are many options for first responders to choose from – even though these radios are all built to meet the same P25 standard.
The reason? “All P25 radios must be constructed to a base level of communications, thereby providing vendor choices to user agencies,” explained Nick Tusa, founder of TUSA Consulting Services. “Yet P25 standards do allow for special features that are potentially useful and create distinctions between vendor offerings.”
Agencies planning to buy P25 radios should review the following features to see which ones address their departmental needs:
- AES-256 voice encryption (to deter eavesdropping);
- Over-the-Air Encryption Re-keying (to refresh protection on the fly);
- GPS location determination capability;
- Legible backlit display of radio talkgroup and on-air status;
- Emergency notification to warn all users quickly;
- MIL-STD 810 compliance;
- The ability to be remotely reprogrammed via the host radio system;
- Operational for at least 12 hours on a single battery charge;
- Ability to transact group and private/individual calls;
- Able to work with third-party microphone/earpiece accessories.
“Most important of all is the vendor's adherence to P25 standards compliance and their program to ensure its products are operable across multiple P25 infrastructure platforms,” said Tusa. “Ask for P25 compliance data when considering the purchase of any P25 radio equipment.”
2. Address the agency’s specific needs
Before an agency selects features for P25 radios, it should first assess its officers’ specific communications needs – and then decide which features matter most.
For instance, is interoperability with local first responders and neighboring public safety agencies a primary consideration? If so, ask those agencies which P25 equipment and platforms they are using/planning to buy and what specific features they are focused on before specifying your own.
Perhaps security is a priority to protect communications from unauthorized listeners -- which is why top-level encryption is a must. Or maybe MIL-STD 810 toughness is important to ensure your P25 radios keep working reliably in harsh weather and handling conditions. If so, these important features should be available in the P25 equipment being purchased.
“The key to a successful P25 procurement is to look closely at your needs and understand them well enough to express them accurately in a detailed RFP,” said Neil Horden, chief consultant with Federal Engineering, Inc. “You can then confidently issue your RFP to radio manufacturers and vendors, and let the market decide which ones best meet your needs at the best price.”
3. Maximize buying power
With so many companies selling P25 radio equipment and transmission infrastructure, public safety agencies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting a good deal on these purchases.
To get the best price for your department, “consider doing the equipment bidding process separately from the transmission infrastructure process,” said Dominick Accuri, public safety radio subject matter expert with Televate LLC in Vienna, Virginia. “After all, there are many more manufacturers of radios than infrastructure. Separating the two purchases ensures that you can get the most competitive prices for both.”
This said, “it is important for public safety agencies to ensure that their adoption of certain specialized features do not inadvertently limit choices and drive solutions into sole-source procurement,” said Tusa.
About the author
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering law enforcement topics.