Alfonso Faustino: P-25 & Reflectors

I really dig the P25 (P-25)digital network; and, I, especially, dig the operators that I have met on P-25 since being a newbie on this network.

(CAPTION: Motorola XTS 5000R UHF R1 P-25 Phase I Transceiver)

BLUF: P-25 sounds better than DMR. I suspect the reason for the sound quality and excellent coverage is that most P-25 repeater owner-operators use Motorola repeaters, such as, but not limited to, Motorola Quantar; and, P-25 uses state-of-the-art voice technology (Codec), which I am still learning; so, once I learn more about the P-25 voice technology, as I did with DMR, I can better understand and compare the two networks.

I use repeater WI6H, which is a newly installed Motorola Quantar P-25 repeater in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks mountain. The coverage is excellent, and the voice quality is superb.

If you’re gonna get into P-25, you have several transceivers to choose — EF Johnson, Harris, and Motorola. My weapons of choice is the Motorola XTS 5000R UHF R1; and, soon, once I close the deal with Motorola Distributor, Ken Bryant, I will have and be using a BRAND NEW apex-predator of the transceiver market, the Motorola APX-8000H Submersible. I will get the hi-viz green housing. This is the ultimate holy grail of transceivers in the transceiver (radio) communications community.

(CAPTION: Motorola APX 8000XEH: Photo Credit: Motorola)

The P-25 operators are highly technical, and they use high-end transceivers with direct connection to a P-25 repeater or through a hot-spot, such as, but not limited to, openSpot2. P-25 operators usually work in the law enforcement industry, as P-25 network architects, operators, and programmers for their agency’s transceivers. They take pride in their equipment and take pride in the fact they created their own code-plugs.

Generally speaking, most P-25 operators are not interested in HAM operators accessing the P-25 community and network using cross-mode on an amateur transceiver to access the P-25 network; and, they have little to no tolerance for operators using their mobile phone or their computers as the primary source of communications to gain entry and talk on the P-25 network — one of the several reasons they do not prefer this type of access is poor voice quality; and, they believe in using P-25 transceivers not computers and mobile phones.

While they will be polite and courteous to these types of operators, the conversations will be politely short with no follow-up discussions — you ever see, Meet The Parents? Remember the scene when DeNiro draws a picture of him and his family in a circle, and one stick figure person is not in the circle with the other stick figures? Well, that stick figure not in the circle is you if you come into the P-25 community, cross-mode on an amateur transceiver, using your mobile phone as a transceiver, or using your computer as a transceiver.

The P-25 community is filled with knowledge; and, if you’re like me, using a Motorola transceiver, you can get answers to your Motorola questions with a push of your PTT; because, most P-25 operators, are using Motorola XTSs or APXes or other Motorola models and have years and tons of experience and knowledge regarding these transceivers.

Since purchasing my Motorola XTS 5000R and very soon my Motorola APX 8000H Submersible, I have been on the P-25 network for the past week: Reflector: 10200: North America. I am a P-25 newbie coming from DMR and D-STAR; and, I put a stake in the P-25 ground to make my home. Within this one week, I found great pleasure in talking with operators that are of like-minds regarding the transceivers we use, our principles in communications protocols (i.e., we pause between TX; no quick-key-ups), and the importance of knowing and learning to use our transceivers in the most optimum manner via hardware and code-plugs.

In this BLOG, I am writing my perspective of the P-25 network and the operators in a general perspective — there are always exceptions; for example, when I say that cross-mode is not favored in the P-25 network, I am speaking in general terms…some operators, a minority, don’t mind an amateur operator using cross-mode to access the P-25 reflectors.

Because DMR and P-25 are in the same genre, as oppose to D-STAR and System Fusion, which was built for amateur communications, I am restricting the scope of this BLOG to P-25 and DMR, which are both strictly commercial communications without any concerns for amateur communications.

To be clear, I enjoy both DMR and P-25…they are both vital in the commercial and amateur realms. In addition, as long as the operator is providing good quality audio, I, personally, don’t mind operators using amateur transceivers to cross-mode into P-25. My primary interest in being a HAM operator is communication with other HAM operators in a social or mission-critical environment.

Here are some P-25 reflectors that are must-haves for your code-plug programming:

  • North America: Reflector: 10200 (highly active)
  • North America TAC 1: 10201
  • NorCal: 30369
  • Worldwide: 10100
  • Pacific: 10400 (moderate activity)
  • Pacific TAC 1: 10401
  • Pacific TAC2: 10402
  • Pacific TAC3: 10403
  • America Rag: 28299

My assessments are as follows, and I reserve my option to update my assessments to their respective opposites, as my time increases with both of these digital networks.

How does P-25 compare in realistic voice quality to DMR?

To my ears, the P-25 makes operators’ voices sound less digital and more like their real voices — it’s like the same sound quality I get when I’m in analog mode with a strong connection to the repeater. I really like the realistic sounding voice that P-25 creates. I’m learning about the P-25 voice technology so I can have a better understanding of it.

How’s the reliability between P-25 and DMR?

In my experiences, the same. Generally speaking, both digital networks use an analog repeater that connect to a computer that connects to a server via the Internet to complete the RX and TX operations of the transceiver. So, reliability is only as good as the connection to the server and the server’s ability to process the data to send and receive to the transceiver. Both P-25 and DMR are crippled or enhanced by these technologies.

How’s the traffic management between DMR and P-25?

That’s a bit more apples:oranges at this point in time. DMR has more traffic these days, so the management of traffic is really tough; because, of all the operators using DMR — since P-25 has an eighth of the traffic of DMR, traffic is not an issue with P-25 — let’s wait and see as more operators experiment with P-25.

Is P-25 expensive to use?

Well, if you’re gonna use P-25 via a transceiver, the answer is, yes. The reason is P-25 requires the use of P-25 transceivers, such as, but not limited to, Motorola, EF Johnson, and Kenwood, and those cost a lot more than the amateur transceivers — even a good-condition used Motorola will cost more than or just about equal to a new amateur transceiver. Commercial transceivers are more expensive and more DIFFICULT to program than amateur stuff when viewed in its totality: ownership, maintenance, and use.

If you are going to cross-mode via a hot-spot, like an openSpot2 or openSpot3, with an amateur transceiver, then the answer is, no.

What is the community like on P-25?

The P-25 operators are friendly, helpful, AND very advanced in the technical aspect of transceivers and radio waves. Many of them, if not all, program their own transceivers, not only because many of them are Motorola programmers or in that line of career, but they dig the challenge of overcoming the barriers of programming a commercial transceiver. Many of the P-25 operators are using the apex-predator of the Motorola transceiver product-line: APX 6000, APX 7000, and the mighty APX 8000.

Have you ever been to an event and you felt you were under-dressed for the occasion? Maybe, I should have worn a tieput on a pair of slacks, and worn a blazer?

While you can cross-mode to P-25 with an amateur transceiver, you might get the feeling you should have dressed up a bit to this party; don’t even think about coming to the party using your mobile phone or computer as your primary communications tool into P-25 — the community has little to no tolerance with these types of operators. Stay with DMR if you’re gonna communicate in the aforementioned fashions.

The P-25 operators are all nice, supportive, and helpful; I’m just saying that when these guys are talking about making their own code-plugs, setting up and adjusting their repeaters, and tweaking their Motorolas, EF Johnsons, Harrises, and Kenwoods, you will feel left out; because the P-25 operators have no interest in discussing cross-modes, mobile phones, nor computers as communications tools.

Also, the sound quality of the aforementioned communications tools, supra, is not tolerable for the operators in the P-25 community. Remember, the P-25 operators take time and pride in their transceivers and code-plugs; and, they APPRECIATE good sound-quality, which is one of the many reasons, these P-25 operators left DMR; DMR has too much noise pollution created by poor quality transceivers.

In my opinion the P-25 operators find more enjoyment helping a complete newbie with his/her own commercial transceiver working out his/her own code-plug; because, there’s more of a kinship — it shows the operator is trying to learn, and we’ve all been a newbie at one time or another. It’s no different than traveling to a different country and trying to speak the language and respecting the social nuances that make up that culture. Moreover, experienced P-25 operators like newbies using commercial transceivers; because, the newbies are preserving the sound-quality of P-25.

P-25 operators talk about the technical aspects of HAM communications as easily as chicks talk about the characters from their girly television shows. My ex-gf was HUGE fan of that series, Sex In The City; and one night, I had the unfortunate and traumatic displeasure of listening to my ex-gf talk with her GFs about the past episodes and forecasting future episodes of that show — rambling on and on about Carrie’s Jimmy Chu’s and such — ick! Who the hell is Jimmy Chu? I still have nausea from thinking about that experience, which was over 10 years ago!

Are there transceiver snobs in the P-25 community?

Yes — you bet; and, in my experiences, there are snobs in ALL communities, in and out of the HAM communities; but, since this is a HAM BLOG, I will restrict my discussion to the HAM communities…D-STAR, DMR, and System Fusion all have snobs — get use to it! If they ain’t a snob in front of your face, they are snobs in their minds and behind your back. That’s life — in and out of the HAM network.

P-25 operators, in my opinion and observation, take pride in their equipment — from purchasing their equipment to programming it. They invested a lot of money into their Motorolas, EF Johnsons, Harris, and so on; and, equally important, they invested a lot of brain-power and time to program these very difficult transceivers; hence, their is pride in ownership, and pride in accomplishing something 95% of the HAM community cannot do.

The pride of ownership and programming these commercial and professional transceivers are badges of honor; and, when you enter the room with one of these transceivers, there is a sense of kinship; because, we all know the pains of our labor, financially and brain-power- wise, to get into this community and be able to talk with each other with quality audio.

P-25 operators do not want the P-25 environment to turn into the DMR environment — amateur equipment not capable of providing the kind of audio quality in a digital environment designed for the use of commercial and professional grade equipment, such as, but not limited to, Motorola.

I enjoy P-25 for the following reasons:

  • The voice quality is realistic and clear;
  • The P-25 operators use commercial and professional transceivers; hence, I have more in common with them, which provides me with more opportunities to increase my knowledge about my own commercial transceivers while still learning more about HAM comms  and HAM digital and analog networks;
  • It has less traffic;
  • The barriers of entry are much tighter and more difficult to break through for most HAM operators, which means there’s a technical level of sophistication of the operators using the P-25 network; because of this…
  • The conversations appeal to me; because, I am learning from operators that are way smarter than me; many operators work and build their own P-25 networks in their day-jobs and create code-plugs for their employees’ Motorolas; and,
  • The P-25 operators are using Motorolas, which I use; hence, I’m able to learn from them, and I can ask questions knowing that I will get an answer for my Motorola needs, such as code-plugs, features, and functions.

The most important thing for me is to learn — I crave to learn as much as I can while I’m on this planet. My HAM aircraft has brought me to the P-25 frontier, and I want to study and learn about the environment and the people in it.

How do I feel about HAM operators using amateur transceivers to cross-mode into P-25?

Personally, I don’t mind at all. As long as they work on getting good sound quality into P-25 via their amateur transceiver and hot-spot to cross-mode, I think it is fine. I’m about making contact with people in a social or mission-critical HAM environment.

With that said, I’m also a guy, in and out of the HAM environment, that respects culture and assimilate into an environment. For example, whenever I travel to a different country, I prepare before I enter. Part of my preparation is I study the culture, and I do my best to learn the language to the best of my ability; I want to ensure that I am never one of those Ugly Americans that act entitled in an out of America.

The same holds true whenever I enter a HAM talk-group, room, or reflector. I listen to the operators and get a feeling of their tone and nature of the talk-group, room, or reflector and act accordingly.

So, generally, in my observation, P-25 reflectors, unless otherwise stated in the title of the reflector is an environment of P-25 operators using high-quality commercial and professional transceivers. They appreciate reliable and quality sound when talking to other operators in the P-25 reflectors.

Now, the rest is up to you on the manner by which you wanna proceed.

Am I gonna drop DMR?

I dig DMR; it is a commercial digital network that is rich in features and benefits — one being APRS. Unlike P-25, DMR has the ability to tie in APRS into the comms operations, which is a very important feature and function for me — my Motorola XPR 7550e is always linked up to APRS for safety reasons. I don’t have this ability with P-25 and my Motorola XTS 5000R Intrinsically-Safe UHF R1 Model II.

Also, DMR has a robust community of operators, as well.  The operators, like P-25, have extensive backgrounds and a high level of technical sophistication, which also deals with issues that interests me on the commercial side.  

DMR has a nice blend of social and technical operators and communities; and, I respect and appreciate all the information they provide to newbies like me.

BUT,…

P-25 will be my primary source for digital communications.

Why?

I’m a Motorola operator; and, P-25 is more specific to Motorola users, which appeals the Motorola-user side of me; and, the access to Motorola resources are immediate; cuz, I know the operator on the other end of my transceiver is using a Motorola or commercial unit and would have experienced the same learning curve that I’m experiencing right now with P-25 and my Motorolas.

I like dealing with like-minded HAM operators by way of their transceivers, HAM etiquette, protocols, and their ear for sound quality.

In conclusion, I’m very happy with P-25; I enjoy the P-25 operators; and, I enjoy using and learning more and more about the P-25 technology by way of doctrine and field experiences.

(NOTE: Some LEOs in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina use DMR instead of P-25. DMR has been around for a long time in Europe, and some of the European first-responders and law enforcement use DMR over P-25 — DMR and P-25 are virtually the same networks, using different protocols and technologies, but both can handle comms for law enforcement and first-responders.)

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