Sustainable Value through Standards

This article, from Helmut Koch’s presentation at a Tait-sponsored partner seminar, looks at standards and why they are still not working the way they should, to serve the communications needs of public safety agencies.

Sustainable-Value-through-Standards_300x300The best thing about standards-based solutions is that standards create sustainable value for our customers who are operators of mission critical communications systems.

How much value we can create depends on our customers. If they are well educated, they will look critically at the radio system, 911 call-taking system, dispatch system, recording system, and all the peripherals of a public safety communication system to understand how they all fit together. Those who do their homework, and who work with informed consultants (who will also educate them) have the most successful outcomes because they choose vendors and solutions based on value. Conversely, the most difficult projects are unduly influenced by particular manufacturers, and therefore more likely to accept proprietary solutions.

Standards transcend companies, models and product lines. Companies and technologies may come and go, but one thing that we can all do to help sustainability for our customers is to demand and enforce standards.

The current convergence of technologies means manufacturers, vendors and consultants need to work together to create complete communication solutions. For instance, a public safety installation is not just about P25; it’s also about 911 communications and the convergence of APCO P25, NG911 (driven by NENA i3 standard), and VoIP telephony. Convergence of mission critical communication technology consists of audio, video and data which are subject to two primary IP-based standards:

  • APCO P25 ISSI/CSSI on the radio side,
  • NENA NG911 i3 on the 911 telephony side

Additionally, there are AES and DES encryption standards for public safety and radio communications with numerous manufacturers of key loaders, manual key loaders and key management facilities, all of which also need to be considered.

From my perspective as a recorder manufacturer, the time sensitive chronology of multi-media communications is critical, because unlike dispatch console systems or 911 call-taking systems, we have to record everything for incident recreation and review.

So let’s consider leveraging standards; APCO P25 ISSI, NENA NG911-i3, and SIP.

I believe SIP is a quasi-standard, because there is no such thing as a standard SIP interface. While it has a generic core, everybody has bastardized it because the standard itself is not specific enough, and therefore open to interpretation. It’s wrong and we all know it. In an ideal world, we should only have to develop for Next Generation 911, P25 ISSI/CSSI, and we should be in pretty good shape using SIP for telephone systems.

The biggest issue with standards is that they are not necessarily directed by what operators want or need. We must find a way to collectively communicate with the APCO, NENA and other standards-generating organizations, so that standards stay current with our customers’ expectations.

For lack of standards, recording companies have had to develop six or seven different integrations for P25 – all proprietary – to meet customers’ requirements. This doesn’t serve anyone’s interest.

It is important to note that the APCO P25, ISSI/CSSI standard is fortunate to benefit from the P25 Compliance

Assessment Program (CAP) which has promoted interoperability by minimizing the impact of standards specifications being subject to interpretation. Of course, most recording vendors do individual compliance testing with major manufacturers like Tait, Airbus, Motorola or Harris, but an independent centralized certification lab or program like CAP, which would apply to recording systems, would help to minimize integration issues.

Currently, recording vendors must take radio, 911, paging, intercom, AVL and integrate with them all, to create functionally-useful products. So, recording system interoperability must involve APCO P25, NG911 and the SIP-based VoIP [P.B.X.] telephone systems. Legacy systems such as conventional radio, trunked radio, analog and digital telephony, all add further complexity.

To complicate things further, there are no standards for recorders – and there should be!

What if the multimedia recording database and storage structure actually became a standard?

Customers come to us and say, “Well, you know, we like your equipment, but we have this older system from this other manufacturer, and we have five years of data that we have to maintain and keep legally.” And we say: “We’re really sorry, but why don’t you just keep it kind of mothballed and use it when you need to.” There just is not a clean solution.

Our customers want and need a standard, for database and storage of communications recordings. The NENA i3 standard is moving in that direction, but it is not going to happen any time soon, because to become a practical reality, we need to converge standards.

The most important accomplishment of recording standards is increased competition, and competition is good for all of us. It decreases cost to the end-user, decreases dependency on proprietary equipment, and decreases susceptibility to obsolescence. It increases choice and opportunities for service and support; you’re not locked in to working with one vendor. Think about the possibility of having service organizations certified to support X, Y, Z systems because they all conform to the ABC Standard.

Ultimately, standards need to reflect what the market really wants, not what engineers and standards committees think they want. Likewise, customers have to become more knowledgeable about their communication requirements. Because here is the reality: customers are going to push their P25 or 911 vendor for features they want. A good vendor will listen to their customer and give them what they want, priced at what the customer will bear. This is why we end up with costly, proprietary systems! Customers can’t wait for new standards to be released – they don’t care about future promises, they will pay accordingly.

I am a real advocate of sustainability through standards, even though it may mean reduced margin and reduced profits for vendors. The only way to move forward is to make sure that standards stay in sync with needs. I have participated in standards development and watched the process hung up needlessly by special interests and general NIH (Not Invented Here) attitudes.

It can be done, and it should be done well!

Perhaps we need to change the way we create standards, by bringing customer needs to the forefront.

Helmut Koch is the co-founder and former President of EXACOM, Inc., manufacturer of multi-media logging recorders for critical communications. After 28 years, the company is now owned by its employees with Mr. Koch continuing his participation as Chairman of the Board, and Director of Strategic Business Development.


This article is taken from Connection Magazine, Issue 6. Connection is a collection of educational and thought-leading articles focusing on critical communications, wireless and radio technology.

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