Urgent Matters

700 MHz narrowband decision from the FCC is needed—quickly

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Hopefully, the FCC will quickly adopt an order eliminating the 700 MHz narrowbanding deadline or extending the deadlines by several years, so entities operating 700 MHz LMR systems do not have to waste scarce resources planning for a project that many doubt will be needed.

It’s still summer, but the budgeting process for many government entities is already in full swing, as officials try to match funding resources with expenditure needs for the 2015 fiscal year. In some cases, initial planning work for the 2016 fiscal-year budget is being done, especially for projects that might be more economically palatable if the costs can be spread over two budget cycles.

One such potential cost that has been lingering over the heads of many entities is a current FCC mandate to narrowband 700 MHz LMR systems to 6.25 kHz channel widths by Dec. 31, 2016, which is just 28 months away. If this mandate remains in place, it is imperative that these government entities get the planning, engineering and bidding-preparation work—all time-consuming tasks, particularly with large systems—done largely during the next year, so the project can be bid and executed in time to meet the FCC deadline.

A more immediate complication is that the current FCC rules require that all affected 700 MHz equipment sold must include 6.25-channel capability by the end of this year, which would result in an added expense to vendors that would be passed along to customers, in most cases.

In recent years, conventional wisdom has been that government entities would not have to worry about the 700 MHz narrowband mandate, because the FCC granted multiple-year waiver extensions for some systems and there seemed to be consensus throughout the sector that the requirement to narrowband 700 MHz systems should not be implemented.

The reasons are numerous, a few of which are included below:

  • Some have questioned whether the narrowbanding effort conducted below 470 MHz really provided as much benefit as originally contemplated, and they have questioned whether the process should be repeated in the 700 MHz band.
  • While narrowbanding below 470 MHz required a move from 25 kHz channel widths to 12.5 kHz channel widths, the P25 solution was purported to provide the same coverage characteristics (actual mileage may vary, according to anecdotes I’ve heard), so existing site plans could be reused. No one is claiming that will be the case for systems moving to 6.25 kHz channel widths, so the migration for 700 MHz narrowbanding could require new sites being built, as well as replacing equipment at existing sites.
  • From an economic perspective, 700 MHz spectrum was not available in many parts of the country until 2009, so forcing entities to spend money to replace relatively new equipment long before it is amortized would create financial difficulties for many governments.
  • From another economic perspective, there is considerable speculation within the industry about the possibility for mission-critical voice to be carried over the public-safety broadband network being built by FirstNet, although opinions on the projected timetable for this vary widely. Officials with 700 MHz systems would like to get better visibility about the mission-critical voice question—and how existing LMR systems could be integrated with FirstNet—before deciding whether to invest a lot of money and effort into narrowbanding an existing 700 MHz LMR system.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

GBH (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2014

I think a lot of these FCC processes are driven a lot more by manufacturers wanting to force customers to have to buy new equipment, than it is by agencies and entities wanting or needing to buy new equipment of their own accord.

Bill Malone (not verified)
on Aug 20, 2014

Great news for all. Taking a step back from the 700 MHz Narrowband deadline-and allowing the current LMR equipment to continue operationally (fiscally) helps everyone who has such equipment in service. It also helps create and further stimulate market incentives for new technology and devices to advance.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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