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The San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay Regional Communications System Authority (EBRCSA) set out to masquerade as a highly interoperable public-safety radio system that would serve Alameda County and Contra Costa County.  The system will cost in excess of $100 million and has been funded mostly with Federal grant dollars.  A key requirement of the Federal grants was for the money be spent on non-proprietary, standards-based technology that would encourage seamless communication between local, state and federal agencies.

A situation is being allowed to occur where interoperability will be impaired because of proprietary variants of the P25 standard being introduced into the system.  The appearance of impropriety with Bay Area UASI, its consultants and Motorola continue.

Many EBRCSA participating agencies have decided to use Motorola’s proprietary ADP encryption (a non-P25 algorithm) in an effort to ensure that “bad guys” can not listen to public safety radio traffic.  The P25 standard includes a robust specification for encryption. Motorola ADP is incompatible with this specifcation. Motorola gives away its ADP software product, most likely in yet another attempt to lock in its customers.  The EBRCSA system will pass ADP, but only to subscribers that also have Motorola ADP radios.  AES is more expensive and more secure than ADP encryption, and is compliant with the P25 specification.  AES is interoperable between different radio brands, while ADP is unique to Motorola products.  Motorola offers AES encryption as an extra-cost option. Each agency could have selected AES and then loaded unique AES keys into their radios to ensure that only those responders with a “need to know” would be able to hear encrypted transmissions, effectively blocking out unauthorized recipients.

The result of this decision will reduce radio interoperability and is contrary to the very problem that the federal grant funds used to build the EBRCSA were intended to resolve.  Some EBRCSA consultants say that this problem can be mitigated if public safety agencies will simply revert to a clear mode channel when mutual aid is required.  This is a very weak argument.  Incidents that are so significant as to require mutual aid will almost always be the same incidents where encryption is the most important.

Is the decision to use Motorola’s proprietary, non-compliant extension to the P25 standard sanctioned by EBRCSA, or made by individual EBRCSA member agencies?  Was the decision based on a recommendation from consulting firm CDX Wireless?  CDX is a sole proprietorship owned by a former Motorola employee, operating under a contract from Bay Area UASI to develop the EBRCSA fleet map.  Has the fleet map work  been completed?  The contract appears to have expired in November 2011 and extended by one year at a value that nearly doubled when officials realized that it had expired.  The CDX scope of work was then expanded to essentially become the EBRCSA technical consultant for anything that the EBRCSA JPA desired. In other words, this appears to be another example of how money is kept flowing to a Motorola ally. In turn, Motorola possibly received a recommendation that results in circumstances that will necessitate sole source procurement of Motorola products because of the need for compatibility with the proprietary ADP encryption scheme. Similar practices were investigated by the feds years ago and found to violate many federal policies.

It seems that Motorola and EBRCSA may have found a way to skirt the spirit of radio equipment interoperability to the detriment of tax payers and first responders.

E.F. Johnson Company published the following paper to highlight some of the potential problems with Motorola’s ADP encryption.  The author concludes that use of radios that have ADP encryption and not P-25 standards-based encryption are ineligible for purchase with federal grant funds.

A good article about the need for P25 compliance testing appeared in the August 2012 issue APCO’s Public Safety Communications magazine.