Narrowbanding Issues Remain Unresolved Months After FCC’s January 1 Deadline

Nearly five months after the FCC’s narrowbanding deadline, people are still talking about the mandate for users of two way radios to convert to 12.5 kHz technology. Among them is Al Ittner, Senior Manager of Spectrum Strategy for Motorola Solutions. Ittner was in Houston last week to speak at the Utilities Telecom Council’s annual conference. His topic was “Narrowbanding: I Missed the Deadline. Now What?”

The narrowbanding mandate from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is familiar to most everyone who works with two way radios. After all, the FCC began the narrowbanding initiative way back in 1992 in order to increase capacity and efficiency for the industrial/business and public safety radio pools in the private land mobile radio services category. In its simplest form, the mandate requires public agencies and companies that use two way radios to upgrade their technology. The FCC set the deadline of January 1, 2013, and it promised potential fines and even loss of license for noncompliance.

Before last week’s conference, Ittner took to the Motorola Solutions North America blog to talk about narrowbanding-related issues still to be resolved. “As evidenced by the number of VHF and UHF public safety and industrial/business entities in the FCC ULS database that are still only licensed for 25 kHz operation, there are still many of you who are scrambling to get into compliance with the FCC narrowbanding mandate,” Ittner wrote.

According to statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, slightly more than 20 percent of FCC licensees are still listing only the old 25 kHz wideband technology. It’s likely, though, that plenty of licenses are in the process of being updated. We also know that plenty of licensees are covered by FCC waivers that have been approved or are on their way to approval.

For those users who aren’t sure whether their two-way radio systems are in compliance, Ittner’s recent article in Urgent Communications offers good advice:

  1. Verify that you have submitted a license modification application to the FCC to include 12.5 kHz or better emission designator on your current 25 kHz license. You may submit modification applications directly to the FCC, if your system simply involves a software change from 25 kHz analog to 12.5 kHz analog operation. If your system modification involves an upgrade to a digital system or other modification of the system, this will require coordination with other licensees in your area of operation. Contact your FCC-certified frequency coordinator to conduct such coordination and submit the modified license application. Also, the FCC found that some licensees already have converted their systems to 12.5 kHz operation but failed to modify their 25 kHz-only licenses. In upcoming audits by the FCC Enforcement Bureau, it will first look at those licensees that are only licensed for 25 kHz operation. So make sure that you are properly licensed for narrowband operation. But remember, it’s not enough just to modify your license; you must also actually convert your system and be operating in at least 12.5 kHz efficiency.
  2. Complete and file a waiver request with the FCC to request authorization to temporarily continue operating at 25 kHz beyond the January 1, 2013 deadline. Though the FCC requested that such waiver requests be filed long before this deadline, it has not yet cut off any further submittals of these requests. The FCC set a high bar for granting such waiver requests, requiring—among other things—detailed information about your narrowbanding progress to date and your milestone timeline for completing the conversion. It also warned that later-filed waiver requests will be granted for shorter extension times than requests that were filed eariler. Visit www.fcc.gov/narrowbanding for further information and FCC completion guidelines.

So, Ittner says, it’s not too late to file a license modification application or a waiver request with the FCC. The agency has said that enforcement is coming but indicated it wouldn’t be until later this year. That’s yet another indication that there’s still time to act.

So check that license and get on the right side of the FCC before it’s too late. And don’t forget—BearCom is here to help!

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