Why Project 25 radios are a law enforcement lifeline

Project 25 radio technology offers several key improvements over traditional radio communications


By James Careless, P1 Contributor

When it comes to public safety radio communications, first responders from different departments and jurisdictions need to be able to talk to each other without fail. If not, lives can be lost.

The Project 25 (P25) radio standard was developed so that everyone using public safety radios could talk to each other in real-time regardless of which department (police, fire or EMS) and jurisdiction they belonged to and which vendor technology is used. Thanks to the efforts of various public safety associations and the U.S. federal government, P25 software-defined digital radios are now being offered by all major land mobile radio (LMR) manufacturers.

The Project 25 (P25) radio standard was developed so that everyone using public safety radios could talk to each other in real-time regardless of which department (police, fire or EMS) and jurisdiction they belonged to and which vendor technology is used. (Photo/PoliceOne)
The Project 25 (P25) radio standard was developed so that everyone using public safety radios could talk to each other in real-time regardless of which department (police, fire or EMS) and jurisdiction they belonged to and which vendor technology is used. (Photo/PoliceOne)

A law enforcement lifeline

P25 radios are commonly referred as “the law enforcement lifeline.” But given that other communication options exist for police departments – smartphones being a prime example – why do P25 radios have this special status?

Obviously, compatibility is the number one benefit of P25 radios. However, it is the way that this compatibility plays out in the field that makes P25 radios so special. It’s not just about interoperability at a static incident scene. P25 radios make the difference whenever an officer is on the move.

A good example of this is a fast-evolving cross-jurisdictional incident, such as a police pursuit.

“When you’re on that pursuit, the person you’re pursuing is not going to stop at your jurisdictional border; they’re going to continue on,” said Cheryl Giggetts, a public safety communications consultant. “The officer pursuing them doesn’t want to give up the pursuit at their jurisdiction’s border, so they need to communicate and collaborate with the neighboring locality, whether to hand off the pursuit or continue to support the pursuit. Either way, these different jurisdictions must be able to talk to each other – and P25 can make this consistently possible.”

“Crime, of course, observes no jurisdictional/geographical boundaries and so the ability for police departments to easily and effectively communicate with each other is of prime importance today,” agreed Nick Tusa, a consultant who also aids first responders in selecting the best radio systems for their needs and budgets.

In addition, “the P25 standard allows for the integration of radio systems sourced from multiple vendors in a manner that now permits radio users to roam and interoperate throughout a region of like P25 radio systems,” Tusa said, “including across state lines.”

A third factor that give P25 radios lifeline status is the quality and clarity of their digital radio broadcasts.

“Traditional analog radio systems are susceptible to noise and interference that degrades audio quality, which is problematic for users,” said Tusa. “Digital radio solutions offer enhanced noise suppression and more consistent audio quality.”

Project 25 radios offer benefits over smartphones

We have seen that incompatible radio systems – either analog or digital – are no match for P25 radios. Neither are smartphones.

There are a few reasons why smartphone cannot replace P25 radios.

First and foremost, the commercial cellular networks that police smartphones operate on are prone to failures during natural and man-made disasters, and traffic overloads in other emergencies. So when police need their smartphones to work the most, they are most likely not to. That’s not true with P25 radios.

Second, smartphone networks are controlled by third-party operators who do not always give first responder traffic top priority. Because they are controlled by public safety agencies, P25 radio networks do.

Third, smartphones generally are not as rugged or tailored to meet specific police needs as P25 radios.

When it comes to keeping police officers safe and maintaining communications with other public safety agencies, Project 25 radios deliver.


About the author
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering law enforcement topics.

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