http://blog.tcomeng.com/[/urlThe Apco P25 Phase I standard is an open standard generally available to any manufacturer, and intended to provide interoperability and promote vendor competition. Apco P25 standard radios must be compatible with all Apco standard features, and must be certified as such. All of the major players build Apco P25 compliant radios.
P25 has been evolving since the 1990's. The IMBE vocoder changes on a regular basis. The P25 capabilities of most digital radios depend on the firmware and codes flashed in the radio, something not always easily determined, or updated to present conditions. I.e., two radios of the same model or product family may have totally different capabilities and downloading the radio may be the only way to tell for sure. Buyer beware.
Most (if not all) P25 scanners will generally handle both Apco P25 and ASTRO25™ voice just fine, and ignore advanced features such as signaling and encryption functions.
If you’re looking to purchase an interoperable transceiver, the homework far exceeds the options of the posters here.
Let me be clear on two points:
First, I work with radio equipment from all manufacturers on a daily basis. /\/\ builds good equipment and I own several by choice, not requirement. But others (H, EFJ, BK, K, et al) also build radios equally suitable for both routine and high-end severe situations. Each have also built at least one total flop, either initially or with a high failure rate over a short time. Time has also shown that even low-end models can turn into star performers that far exceed the designer's expectations under repeated severe conditions, and brand doesn’t seem to make a difference. I own a "low-end" wide area repeater that gets used 2-3 hours a day- I haven't needed to open the cabinet since 2005. But among the present high-end models, the only real variations are in the minor details, and mostly the price.
Second, there are Chevy fans and Ford fans, and they can’t abide the other simply because they just can’t. They will patently ignore evidence that others build vehicles that time has proven to dependably do the same thing for 200,000 miles. Unfortunately there are many agency executives who are intensely biased by various forces, who wrongly believe that only one manufacturer makes suitable equipment, and who will do everything possible to steer procurement in that direction. Individuals who put themselves in harm's way absolutely need suitable equipment, but a variety of manufacturers build it. That ‘inconvenient truth’ is often ignored for reasons that remain in the back rooms and closed meetings.
ASTRO25™ incorporates the Apco P25 standard, making it compliant. However, there are new data or signaling features that didn’t exist when the Apco P25 standard was written, but are now being written into bid specifications. /\/\ calls these features 'advanced'. But instead of changing the standard to make all new features available to the entire industry, /\/\ decided to place many ‘advanced’ features in their own proprietary digital segment appended to the Apco P25 standard data string, and keep it away from the competition. As a result Apco P25 compliant radios or dispatch consoles from non-/\/\ vendors cannot interface with all 'advanced' features of ASTRO25™ equipment.
I’m also a taxpayer and here’s the rub.
Simply, the open interoperable standard has become a vendor-specific proprietary scheme used to ensure continuing purchases. While ASTRO25™ radios are Apco P25 compliant, if an agency purchases equipment from other manufacturers (even though they meet all aspects of the Apco P25 interoperable standard) they will not work properly with all features of an ASTRO25™ system.
Once the camel's nose is under the tent, an agency with ASTRO25™ equipment puts out a bid spec for additional equipment simply requiring that new equipment be 100% compatible with their existing system. “We need to be able to (insert ASTRO25™ ‘advanced’ function). Our existing system does that, and having a special system just for new brand-X (totally Apco P25 compliant) radios wouldn’t be prudent.” That sounds like a reasonable requirement, doesn’t it? I like a Fords.
Here’s where it gets interesting. While this "non-standard standard" may technically satisfy all political requirements for competitive government bidding, in reality it's an outright purchase from single preferred vendor that possibly offers no operational advantages, may be detrimental to critical communications interoperability, and is almost always at a premium price for the taxpayers to swallow. Interoperability only exists in the skewed standard. There are dozens if not hundreds of such requests for bids available for your perusal.
Any sole source non-competitive contract price may not be prudent and economical. The public seldom knows about it, has an opportunity to review the contract, or examine the purchase. Freedom of Information requests are often stone-walled. As a result, in many cases sole-source equipment costs taxpayers far more than comparable offerings from other perfectly qualified vendors.
“It's for our dedicated, hard-working (firefighters/police/etc) and they deserve the best.” Sounds good, but is it economically sound? Define “best” without using brand names.
So far it's been a successful business model. Google your favorite manufacturer's name and "sole-source non-bid radio contract", or BAYWEB, STARCOM, DuPage County, or "Washington State Patrol" for the latest on how it’s working out for us taxpayers.
So much for fiscal responsibility, communications interoperability and vendor competition.
I can already sense blog responders lining up and flexing their fingers over the keyboards.
But when you respond, do us all a favor and cite examples of where proprietary sole source bid specs in a market where several vendors build suitable equipment at lower pricing benefits the taxpayers. It’s only taxpayer money, and we have plenty available to spend, right?
Project 25 - The RadioReference Wiki
Part of the issue stems from TIA 102 itself. ALL vendors meet the P25 requirements, and are allowed to add vendor extentions and still be compliant. People either make the assumption that to be P25 compliant, ALL of your features have to be in every other brand radio. This is an incorrect assumption. If the agency chooses to implement an optional vendor feature as allowed, resulting in vendor lockin, then its the agencies decision, not the responsibility of the vendor.Let’s say I go out to buy a $500 32" TV that meets the cable standard so I can watch the History Channel and come home with a $5K model with all kinds of nifty features gong way beyond my purchase intent. I am only accountable to myself and my lovely wife, who will strangle me. My pleas that the picture is so much better and that the TV lets me post on Twitter will not loosen her grip on my throat.
If a government body does they same thing, they are responsible to us lowly taxpayers for their actions. It’s called accountability. Unfortunately that transparency seldom exists with government purchases, contributing to our fiscal crisis.
I also design and build industrial automation systems. Let's say I went to a customer and proposed two systems, one with a Microsoft OS and anoher with a Linux OS. Is Microsoft better than Linux? Debateable, and subject to much opinion. Will they both accomplish the same mission. Yep. Does every SCADA equipment manufacturer support Microsoft interfaces? Absolutely. Linux? No, so it would probably be proprietary code that I wrote myself. If the plant manager needs to expand his system in two years and chooses the Linux option, he's going to have to come back to me and I can charge whatever I want. If he doesn't come to me he'll have to find someone to write new custom code at great expense, or trash his system and start over. If he chooses Microsoft platforms, anyone can bid and I have to be competative. Which is better for me? The Linux option, no question. I love being a capitalist. That gauranteed extra income would allow me to buy fine Christmas Gifts for the plant manager. That Linux system would ensure my children's future. But if the plant manager was dumb enough to fall for it his CFO would fire him. Which is better for the plant manager? The open Microsoft system where I have competition and he has options. Why should government purchases be any different?
If a government body needs proprietary, single vendor equipment to meet uniquire requirements they are free to purchase it. However, there should be a clearly defined reason for needing proprietary equipment and it should be very clear that there is only one vendor building items that meet the government's legitimate requirements. As a governmental body they are supposed to prove they are doing so in a prudent, economically sound fashion, legitimately justify their reason for a sole source purchase, and have the entire process open to public scrutiny and invite legitimate public input and comment before the purchase is made. Sorry folks, that's why governments require bidding. Democracy is not always convenient.
If a government body were to issue a RFQ for generic $20K mini-trucks that does not specify Ford, Dodge or Chevy, then uses that contract to ultimately purchase $150K full-size Freightliner P4XL pickups (yes, they really exist and I want one) the taxpayers should be outraged at the slight of hand. If grant money specifying mini-trucks was used for the purchase, the grant oversight body should demand accountability and a refund. Remember, this is OUR tax dollars being used.
The Apco P25 standard was written with the intent of allowing every P25 radio be 100% compatible with every other P25 radio. Period. Additional features are allowed, providing they do not interfere with the multi-vendor compatibility of the system. Many vendors build such equipment, not just one, and in fact many different vendors have such systems in operation.
If a government body issues a multimillion dollar request for quotation specifying a 100% P25 open standard interoperable system, they should be quoted and in fact purchase exactly that. Most if not all of the interoperable communication grants require it. If the agency needs a proprietary system, they should bid it as such, and justify their reasons. Any manufacturer, and not just /\/\, who promotes a system to a government body as the open, 100% vendor-independent P25 standard, should be required to deliver a system that does not exclude any other vendor’s equipment from being fully operational on it.
That is not always the case. The problem is that the open vendor-independent standard is used to justify and fund the purchase of a communications system that is ultimately designed and implemented to exclude any other vendor. (Microsoft or Linus?) It's a slight of hand that teeters on the edge of fraud, and just everyone does it doesn't make it right. We all know that the big money is always made on the back end. Proof, you ask? Look at Chicago’s $20M+ non-bid ‘addition’ to protect their investment in an existing $325K system. Look at Illinois CMS’ $200M+ non-bid ‘renewal’ of the second 10-year STARCOM contract, justified by the statement that ‘there wasn’t time to include other vendors’; CMS knew it was coming for 10 years, and I’m pretty sure Harris, et al., could have had proposals on the table in six months, but for some unknown reason, there ‘wasn’t time’. The list goes no and on.
I’ll say this again: /\/\ builds some very fine radios. But others do also.
If additional equipment to a system that is intended to be vendor-independent goes out to bid and the original vendor has the best option at the most economical price, fine. But if all other vendors are excluded because of proprietary changes to the open standard the system was originally intended to meet, there is a problem, especially if subsequent purchases are at a premium and exceed market price.
In a business setting, the stockholders will require justification for any expense, and remediation for errors in judgement. At home my wife will simply strangle me. But in a government setting the taxpayers just write a bigger check. The key words here are government and taxpayer.
My issue is that taxpayer supported purchases must have real, legitimate accountability. The total cost of ownership must be examined, and any spec must include the ability to use alternate and potentially less costly products that meet changing requirements. An open standard is an open standard. If the bid spec says apples then buy apples. Don’t use it to enter into a contract for Bolivian Blushing Blue Pearmains that can only be peeled by solid titanium peelers that are only available at a premium from a single source.
The practice of begging forgiveness instead of asking for permission at taxpayer expense needs to stop.