Public safety and communications go hand-in-hand because fast and clear communication is key to preventing and addressing emergencies. Much has happened since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, shined the national spotlight onto these issues, and it's encouraging to witness the FCC's latest step in advancing first-responder communications by mandating spectrum reconfiguration to eliminate interference to first responders' radios.

First, a little background on the issue: Interference on public-safety radios at 800 MHz is occurring because commercial and public-safety radio frequencies are too close to one another in the spectrum. Interference can occur when the high-site/high-power operations of public-safety licensees transmit near the commercial licensees' low-site/low-power operations.

An easy way to understand this is to imagine a big college dormitory. Under the old system, a drummer and an opera singer are assigned to the same room. Neither musician can practice or perform in peace, but they'd both be happy living down the hall from each other. What the FCC is doing by mandating spectrum reconfiguration is basically separating these musicians so they can both be heard. This reorganization of the frequency band will proactively eliminate this type of interference problem, allowing first responders to concentrate on protecting our communities.

The FCC's solution is going to take three years to implement. The official kickoff to the process was June 27, and we've already made progress. Nextel is working cooperatively with the other entities charged with spearheading this effort. We are committed to ensuring this process is carried out efficiently and with as little disruption as possible — and we know that having people understand what's going on and what (if anything) is expected of them is key. So, to that end, there are a few important things for licensees operating in 806 MHz to 824 MHz and 851 MHz to 869 MHz to know:

  • Reconfiguration will be implemented on a region-by-region basis. The regions are divided into four “waves,” based on the degree of interference, population size, border-region status and impact on neighboring regions. In any given region, licensees in channels 1-120 will be reconfigured first, followed by NPSPAC licensees.

  • The FCC has appointed a Transition Administrator (TA) to coordinate the process. The TA is an independent authority that will coordinate all the administrative and financial aspects of the reconfiguration process. If your licenses are affected, you will receive detailed information from the TA and should use it as a resource. Wave 1 licensees already should have received this type of information.

  • First step: signing a contract. In order to outline the re-tuning procedures and ensure full coverage of all reasonable costs, you will have to sign a contract with Nextel. To prepare for this initial step you should:

    • take inventory to within 5% of all radio equipment.

    • develop a list of what needs to be reconfigured.

    • identify who will do the re-tuning work.

    • prepare a plan of how you'd like to proceed.

    • talk with Nextel.
  • Your radios will be re-tuned to new assigned frequencies. This will involve re-tuning the mobile units, combiners and repeaters on your system. All reasonable costs incurred by your organization related to the reconfiguration process will be fully covered by Nextel, and you are assured of comparable facilities.

  • Nextel service will be unaffected, and iDEN customers will not need any new equipment.

  • For more information on reconfiguration, go to the TA's Web site (www.800ta.org) or contact Nextel at 800MHz@nextel.com.

Nextel is proud to be a part of an innovative public/private solution that ultimately will result in first responders gaining significantly improved communications at 800 MHz, which will help to make our country and the communities where we live and work safer. We are committed to responsibly addressing this process and look forward to working hand-in-hand with all parties involved.


Sandy Edwards is Nextel's vice president for spectrum resources.