Remember the political proverb, “Say anything about me, but make sure you spell my name correctly”? The point is that any publicity is good, even if it's bad. That's been the case for 6.25 kHz narrowbanding ever since the FCC issued its Third Report and Order back in March. The order created a narrowband buzz like never before among users, manufacturers, industry associations and frequency coordinators.

My past four months have been a whirlwind of travel to industry associations, regulatory offices, dealer meetings, trade shows and large end-users to discuss narrowbanding. I hear similar questions everywhere I go: How does the order affect me? When do I have to move to 6.25 kHz? What about my current migration to 12.5 kHz? Will it be interoperable? What technology is available? How does it work? What are my options? What should I do now? How can I test it?

Let's focus on the specific language in the order. Some key excerpts are:

  • “We decline to establish a fixed date … to transition to 6.25 kHz technology.”

  • “We strongly urge licensees to consider the feasibility of migrating directly … to 6.25 kHz technology.” (Emphasis added.)

  • “Such a course could be more efficient and economical than first migrating to 12.5 kHz.”

The FCC, while urging migration to 6.25 kHz, is letting licensees determine their own migration strategies and timetables. The commission will wait and watch to see what we do before establishing specific rules and deadlines.

Some licensees may find a direct migration to 6.25 kHz technology is not “feasible” and will continue their current migration to 12.5 kHz (analog or digital) by 2013. Others may find a direct migration to 6.25 kHz digital technology “more efficient and economical,” as the commission suggests. Then again, some may choose a mixed operation of 12.5 kHz analog (trunked or conventional) and 6.25 kHz digital technology. This would involve both analog and digital channels programmed in a single radio.

The Land Mobile Communications Council has worked hard during the past year to develop “best practices” for coordination of 6.25 kHz frequencies. The LMCC should have submitted its procedures to the FCC by the time you read this. I expect those procedures to include directions on how to split both exclusive and shared channels into 6.25 kHz segments, as well as how to “drop in” a new 6.25 kHz channel without interfering with an incumbent licensee. The LMCC's diligence will enable users to enjoy the benefits of the new technology while preventing any new interference.

The FCC wisely established a hard date for radio manufacturers to develop 6.25 kHz capability in all new radios by 2011. This competition should create a wide choice of new products for radio users. The 6.25 kHz technology standard essentially will define itself through the actual choices of consumers in the market place. The commission indicates it will wait for that process to unfold before establishing further rules.

Now it's up to us manufacturers to get together to make a compelling business case for licensees to migrate to 6.25 kHz technology sooner rather than later, thereby reaping the benefits of this new technology. This course of action will influence the progress of narrowband migration far more than forcing it with regulation, and it ultimately will accomplish the FCC's noble objective of creating more usable spectrum.

Chris Lougee is vice president at Icom America and leads its land mobile radio division.