Public-safety radio networks operating on the T-Band will not be subject to the narrowbanding deadline scheduled for the end of this year, the Federal Communications Commission stated in a public notice released April 26, 2012. According to published reports, some public safety radio networks have installed the required new equipment at little to no cost, but others projected the switch to cost more than $1 million.
The FCC did not set a date after which it would no longer approve equipment with a wideband (25 kHz) mode, or after which such equipment could no longer be manufactured or used. The decision provides public safety radio networks more time to comply with the T-Band narrowbanding rule, which initially had such a short time frame that many municipalities stated they could comply only in an unreasonably expensive and haphazard way.
Under the proposed rule, the FCC required all users of those networks to transition from 25 MHz-wide channels to 12.5 MHz-wide channels by the end of 2012, and do away with the T-Band in 10 years to free up more spectrum for commercial uses.
Already Strained Budgets
Some municipalities said the cost of the switch was $25,000 or less, but they say the expense is only part of the problem. Many public safety radio networks, used by state police, highway departments, and other public service and commercial users employ expensive equipment that is relatively new but would be rendered obsolete by the narrowbanding rule. Any additional use that could be squeezed out of these systems as a result of an extended deadline would be beneficial for already strained budgets.
According to the FCC’s waiver announcement, “The Commission contemplated that, as systems reached the end of their service life and new radios were needed, users would migrate to the narrower bandwidth multi-mode radios in order to avoid the adjacent-channel interference that could occur from systems using the adjacent narrowband channels.”
Exorbitant Installation Fees
This isn’t the first time the FCC has backed off from spectrum deadlines, according to Mike Arman, an Oak Hill, Florida, publisher.
“I’ve seen this in aviation as well,” Arman said, referring to the FCC’s decision to stop monitoring the 121.5 MHz bandwidth. Arman said the move required all aviators to purchase a new emergency locator transmitter for $2,000. However, the new transmitters weren’t in stock or in production. The FCC backed off, but new radio equipment was still needed to fly from the contiguous United States over Canadian air space to Alaska, Arman says.
Additionally, the FCC required tighter tolerances on aircraft radio transmitters, Arman said. As a result, he said, “Many, many perfectly good and expensive communication sets got junked because they couldn’t meet the new transmission tolerances.”
Arman said installation fees were exorbitant. “That alone can run to four figures or even five figures very easily in addition to the cost of the radios,” he said. “That is not very practical for airplanes worth $20,000 to $50,000.”
Narrowbanding a Necessity
Arman explained the $25,000 estimate for upgrading a small municipality’s emergency radio system is plausible, but big cities easily could run into tens of millions of dollars because of cumbersome, inefficient purchasing and procurement systems. “It may require an expensive study taking five years just to figure out what they need,” he said.
Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Chicago-based Money Crashers, said, “There is absolutely a need for narrowbanding, as it allows for an increase in channels and improves the efficiency of existing systems.”
Schrage said the January 1, 2013 deadline seemed extreme, as it may not allow sufficient time to transition properly. “The reprogramming of existing equipment can take weeks, updating FCC licenses requires up to three months, and implementing new equipment can take a year or more,” he said.
“A two- to three-year deadline seems more appropriate, as numerous counties and private companies have already filed for a waiver from the deadline,” Schrage said.
Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.
“Waiver of Narrowbanding Deadlines for T-Band (470-512 MHz) Licensees,” Federal Communications Commission, April 26, 2012: http://www.fcc.gov/document/waiver-narrowbanding-deadlines-t-band-470-512-mhz-licensees