​In both the public-safety and business-industrial sectors, fewer land-mobile-radio (LMR) license applications were approved in 2017 than in any year since the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) database began keeping full-year online records in 2001.

Overall, the FCC has approved 13,430 applications that were submitted in 2017 for new and modified licenses in the public-safety and business-industrial arenas, based on ULS data available on Wednesday. Even if all 263 of the pending 2017 license applications were granted, the number of 2017 license approvals would represent a 17.4% decrease in comparison to the 16,576 licenses approved in 2008—the previous low in ULS online history.

The combined 2017 licensing figures represent a 39.3% decrease compared to number of licenses approved just two years ago in 2015 (a 38.1% drop if all pending applications were to be approved, which is highly unlikely).

License approvals in the business-industrial sector experienced a particularly dramatic decrease in 2017, with the 10,047 granted licenses during the year representing a 28.0% decrease compared to the previous year and a 43.8% drop compared to 2015 figures. The number of 2017 business-industrial license approvals is 10.7% less than the sector’s previous low of 11,256 licenses approved during 2009, in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Some industry sources have attributed the decrease in business-industrial licensing activity to the fact that most LMR systems were updated to meet the FCC’s narrowbanding deadline at the beginning of 2013, so there is less need for new and modified license. In addition, an increasing number of enterprises are choosing to utilize push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) solutions to meet their push-to-talk needs, instead of building or updating an LMR system, according to many industry sources.

Public-safety licensing activity saw a noticeable decline during 2017, although the drop was not as dramatic as the one in the business-industrial sector. The number of 2017 public-safety licenses approved represents at 14.5% decline compared to the previous year and a 20.4% decline compared to the 2015 figures.

After 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, funding public-safety communications became a much greater priority at the federal, state and local levels. Each of the last three years have established a new low in public-safety licensing activity in the post-9/11 era, with the 3,383 new and modified public-safety license approvals in 2017 (30 applications are still pending) being at least 100 less than the previous low of 3,530 in 2001.

As with the business-industrial sector, the impact of the 2013 narrowbanding mandate is among the explanations cited as a reason for the recent decrease in public-safety licensing activity. A drop in federal funding for LMR system and the migration of public-safety entities from local private LMR systems to regional or statewide systems also are offered as possible reasons.