Reconfiguration of the 800 MHz band is moving forward and making good progress. Much of the work at this point revolves around planning and establishing contracts with affected licensees concerning their individual re-tuning process — including their new frequency assignments — the timing of the re-tuning and costs that will be covered by Sprint Nextel. As of October 10, initial contact had been made with 100% of the Wave 1 Channel 1-120 (Phase I) licensees and agreements established with more than 50% of them.

This is definitely one of the tedious aspects of the process, and we at Sprint Nextel share the common desire to “just get on with it,” but as with most things, there must be strategy before execution so that everything is set, and everyone is on the same page. After all, you wouldn't want to realize that you forgot about the portable you are letting the mayor use or that the re-tune is scheduled for your busiest time of day. So, with that in mind, let's take a close look at the planning and negotiation stages.

The first thing licensees must do is review their radio equipment inventory, including the number of mobiles, combiners and repeaters, as well as the make and model of those units. This is essential information, as it dictates the re-tuning schedule and compensation for licensees.

Licensees also should use this time to review their FCC licenses to make sure contact and all other information is current and correct. In addition, they should decide who would interface with Sprint Nextel during the negotiations.

The amount of planning necessary will be completely dependent on the size and scope of your system. If you have a single-site conventional or trunked system, then this will be a fairly straightforward exercise with limited or no planning necessary. However, should you have a more complex system, more comprehensive planning may be required. While there are still “kinks” to be worked out, there is an established process for licensees to receive funding for some of these planning activities.

This planning will equip licensees with the background information necessary for the next — and perhaps one of the more involved — steps in the reconfiguration process: contract negotiation. Sprint Nextel has regional representatives devoted to this issue who hold the same goals as licensees — to get this done as efficiently and effectively as possible. It's not in our interest to hold anything up needlessly. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, so rest assured that you're coming into this situation with a good faith negotiator sitting at the other side of the table.

The first step in the negotiation process is preparing an estimate for all costs associated with reconfiguring your system and re-tuning your radios — such as internal staff labor, equipment and outside vendors (engineering and legal counsel). If you are using outside vendors for anything, you need to receive quotes from them before doing this so you can factor those costs into your overall estimate. This cost estimate will then be used as the basis for Sprint Nextel preparing the first draft of a contract.

There is a six-month window for negotiations. During this time, Sprint Nextel and the licensee will start negotiating toward agreement on key issues such as new frequency assignments, overall costs and timetable, and payment terms.

The most frequent question the Sprint Nextel's field team has encountered from licensees is “who on our side should sign the deal?” Unfortunately, the answer is: It depends. In some cases it is the city attorney; in others, it is the city council, chief of police, city manager or the mayor. It depends on the type of local government you have. Also, there are many cases where a licensee's local government will require special terms in order to approve the deal. There might be some running around involved, but getting all of this sorted out before it comes time to sign the papers will greatly help you in the end and speed up the process.

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