What about data?

The data capabilities inherent in the P25 standard have been largely surpassed by commercial broadband developments and FirstNet expectations. However, there are some useful applications which operators should consider.

Plan for the future of P25 data
From the outset, P25 has been data-capable, with Public Safety data applications still being identified and developed by vendors.

While P25 data is not robust enough for some applications promised with the standard, other, less bandwidth-demanding applications, such as status messages and workforce management tools, are working well.

AVL is sufficiently accurate to locate first responders outdoors. Anecdotally, this has already proven to save lives. Location data can easily be retrieved, via the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) and referred to in the event of an enquiry.

While waiting for full FirstNet deployment, agencies should prepare for, and take advantage of, a rapid increase in Public-Safety-specific data applications in the near future. The majority of these applications require broadband wireless technologies, but the inherent data capabilities of P25 should not be ignored.

Balance your voice and data needs
P25 combined voice and data networks bring many efficiencies and safety benefits, and communicating via data may help reduce voice traffic on your network.

Data is generally more of a management tool, with messages usually sent from dispatch rather than incoming. So most systems do not see the decrease in voice traffic they may have expected, once data is implemented. You also need to be aware that voiceless dispatch is not permitted in some jurisdictions.

Consider a dedicated data channel, with priority-based voice override for efficient channel use.

Over the air programming/rekeying
OTAP and OTAR are among the most often discussed P25 data applications. Purchasers should understand the limitations of any offering. OTAP is not yet defined in the
P25 standard, so every OTAP solution that is currently available is proprietary. This will create problems when programming radios from multiple vendors.

OTAR is defined in the P25 standard, but is rarely used. (this issue will be discussed in a later best practice guide).

Paging on P25 digital radios
Paging is widely used by Fire agencies as an effective and inexpensive communication with their volunteers. Vendors promise a P25 paging solution but this has not eventuated to date. The lack of a robust paging solution on P25 remains an issue, as Fire agencies are forced to maintain analog channels to support paging, within the P25 network.

The future of FirstNet
Conceived in response to the 9/11 commission’s findings, this extensive new network will provide access to applications and coverage for public safety first responders. Users will have fast access to information they need.

Initially FirstNet will be used to send data, video, images and text and make cellular-quality voice calls. FirstNet will allow for priority access among public safety users.

At this time, there are too many uncertainties to do any specific planning or to include any specific technical requirements in the RFP. But it is important that
you discuss the potential impact of Firstnet on your communications with your consultant and/or vendor to future-proof your contract and the decisions you make now.

What to do?
Even if you are not sure if you want to use any data capabilities of your future P25 networks, make sure that the vendors explain capabilities of their solutions as well as the cost and effort needed to implement some basic applications such as AVL, text messaging, status messaging, workforce management tools, productivity tools, OTAP and OTAR. Similarly, request the information on your vendors’ broadband data activities and capabilities. While it is too early to ask for specific solutions, you want to make sure that your future partners are up to speed and planning interoperability with the future broadband technologies.

If you are interested in specific data applications and tools, include them in your specifications – even if you plan to implement them at a later date – to obtain accurate, binding and competitive cost information.

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