Alfonso Faustino: P25 & Reflectors

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

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

BLUF: P25 sounds better than DMR. I suspect the reason for the sound quality and excellent coverage is that most P25 repeater owner-operators use Motorola repeaters, such as, but not limited to, Motorola Quantar; and, P25 uses state-of-the-art voice technology (Codec), which I am still learning; so, once I learn more about the P25 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 P25 repeater in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks mountain. The coverage is excellent, and the voice quality is superb.

If you’re gonna get into P25, 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 Corporation, I will have and be using a BRAND NEW apex-predator of the transceiver market, the Motorola APX-8000HXE Submersible. I will get the hi-viz green housing — you can have any color as long as it is Hi-viz Green.

The P25 operators are highly technical, and they use high-end transceivers with direct connection to a P25 repeater or through a hot-spot, such as, but not limited to, openSpot2. P25 operators usually work in the law enforcement industry, as P25 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.

If you’re gonna cross-mode with an amateur transceiver to access the P25 network, then make certain your settings are spot-on to avoid sound pollution on the P25 network. By the way, P25 transceivers through a hot-spot or repeater can also create sound pollution on the P25 network when the hot-spot settings are off or proximity to the repeater.

In general, Yaesu operators sound better on cross-mode into P25 than operators using low-end Oriental transceivers to cross-mode into P25.

The P25 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 P25 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 8000HXE Submersible, I have been on the P25 network for the past week: Reflector: 10200: North America.

I am a P25 newbie coming from DMR and D-STAR; and, I put a stake in the P25 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 P25 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 P25 network, I am speaking in general terms…some operators, like I, don’t mind amateur operators using cross-mode to access the P25 reflectors.

To be clear, I enjoy both DMR and P25…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 P25 — as mentioned, I find that Yaesu operators sound the best — I can’t even tell they are in cross-mode, and it’s a pleasure to my ears listening to them.

Hell, even P25 transceivers cause sound pollution on the P-25 network for whatever reasons: unstable connection to the repeater or poor wi-fi quality.

My primary interest in being a HAM operator is communication with other HAM operators in a social or mission-critical environment; so, I really don’t care about the way they access any network — as long as I can understand them due to clean and clear TX, I enjoy talking with anyone.

Here are some P25 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

Because DMR and P25 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 P25 and DMR, which are both strictly commercial communications without any concerns for amateur communications.

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 P25 compare in realistic voice quality to DMR?

To my ears, the P25 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 P25 creates. I’m learning about the P25 voice technology so I can have a better understanding of it.

How’s the reliability between P25 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 P25 and DMR are crippled or enhanced by these technologies.

How’s the traffic management between DMR and P25?

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 P25 has an eighth of the traffic of DMR, traffic is not an issue with P25 — let’s wait and see as more operators experiment with P25.

Is P25 expensive to use?

Well, if you’re gonna use P25 via a transceiver, the answer is, yes. The reason is P25 requires the use of P25 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.

I recommend a Yaesu transceiver with a hot-spot to access the P25 network — Yaesu’s sound the best in P25, via cross-mode. I like that FT3.

What is the community like on P25?

The P25 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 P25 operators are using the apex-predator of the Motorola transceiver product-line: APX 6000, APX 7000, and the mighty APX 8000.

P25 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 P25 operators left DMR; DMR has too much noise pollution created by poor quality transceivers.

In my opinion the P25 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 P25 operators like newbies using commercial transceivers; because, the newbies are preserving the sound-quality of P25.

P25 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 P25 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!

P25 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.

I enjoy P25 for the following reasons:

  • The voice quality is realistic and clear;
  • The P25 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 P25 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 P25 networks in their day-jobs and create code-plugs for their employees’ Motorolas; and,
  • The P25 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 P25 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 P25?

Personally, I don’t mind at all. I cross-mode all the time with my openSpot2; I think it’s a great feature and tool to meet other operators and experience other digital platforms.

As long as operators work on getting good sound quality into P25 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.

If you are gonna cross-mode, then make sure your settings are proper in order not to create sound-pollution. Like I mentioned, Yaesu operators, when they cross-mode, produce excellent sound quality.

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 P25, 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 P25 and my Motorola XTS 5000R Intrinsically-Safe UHF R1 Model II.

Also, DMR has a robust community of operators, as well.  The operators, like P25, 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.

P25 will be my primary source for digital communications.

Why?

I’m a Motorola operator; and, P25 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 P25 and my Motorolas.

In conclusion, I’m very happy with P25; I enjoy the P25 operators; and, I enjoy using and learning more and more about the P25 technology by way of doctrine and field experiences.

(NOTE: Some LEOs in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina use DMR instead of P25. DMR has been around for a long time in Europe, and some of the European first-responders and law enforcement use DMR over P25 — DMR and P25 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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