A reconfiguration handbook for 800 MHz licensees released April 21 by the Transition Administrator team clarified many procedural points of the upcoming rebanding effort, but the 58-page document also left many compensation-related questions unanswered.

As expected, the TA handbook confirmed that Nextel Communications — the wireless carrier paying the rebanding bill — is the primary contact for negotiations and that the rebanding process would be done in two phases, a planning and negotiating phase and the implementation phase.

Licensees are advised in the handbook to let Nextel pay third-party vendors directly and to provide documentation to support any internal costs they want Nextel to pay. Licensees can secure funds from Nextel to cover estimated planning and negotiation costs by submitting a request for planning funding, which must be negotiated with Nextel and approved by the TA.

Covered planning costs include expenses associated with conducting an inventory and costs for legal and engineering consulting work. Although licensees are not required to submit a request for planning funding, those that do not “will be at risk [of] not being reimbursed if these costs are subsequently determined not to be acceptable by Nextel and the TA.”

In addition, more scheduling detail was provided, including deadlines for licensees to identify their point of contact to the TA (see chart) and a timeline that shows the beginning of planning windows for each rebanding wave (see feature on page 40). Wave 1 licensees in the 1-120 channels are encouraged to begin planning with Nextel and the TA now.

Separately, the TA issued a press release summarizing the frequencies that economic area (EA) specialized mobile radio (SMR) licensees can choose to occupy after rebanding is completed. Affected SMR licensees are required to make their selection by May 13. Both the handbook and the EA press release are available at the TA's Web site, www.800ta.org.

“The primary purpose of this is to let licensees know what the process will be,” said Brett Haan, deputy program manger for the TA team. “We also wanted to explain our role and let licensees know that, if they have any questions, they can ask us as the independent body. Licensees should always feel free to contact us.”

While those close to the rebanding process agreed that such procedural clarifications were needed, many expressed concern that the handbook raised new questions and failed to address several others.

WAVE 1 MAY 27, 2005
WAVE 4 MARCH 3, 2006*
Source: Transition Administrator
*This date may change pending treaties with Canada and Mexico

For instance, while the TA handbook stipulates that Nextel will pay licensees' inventory costs, the guidelines note that serial number detail “generally will not be an acceptable expense.” But licensees need to collect serial numbers to ensure that all equipment has been reprogrammed as part of the rebanding effort, said Glen Nash, acting second vice president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

“If you've counted 1000 radios and you only reprogrammed 999 radios, you've got to have a way to identify which radio was missed,” he said. “If you don't, you can be sure that radio will be the one that's needed in a critical situation.”

Perhaps the most-noted omission in the handbook was any clarification regarding what kind of radio licensees can expect to receive when a replacement is necessary (see story on page 48).

Another debate concerns whether licensees should perform so-called “baseline” tests before and after rebanding to determine whether the rebanded network offers comparable performance to the existing network.

Although the handbook states that “a formal test using a well-documented route and automated signal-measurement and data-collection procedures may be the only objective way to compare coverage,” it does not indicate whether Nextel must pay the bill for such tests.

Nor does the handbook indicate the scope of these monitoring efforts. Most discussions of baseline testing have focused on received signal strength indicator (RSSI) tests that determine coverage, and multiple speakers at last month's IWCE expressed support for such tests being funded.

But AIM Wireless President Ahmad Malkawi said conducting only RSSI tests fails to address the point of rebanding — resolving interference problems. Furthermore, the FCC rebanding order states that rebanded licensees should have the same channel capacity. In most cases, Malkawi said, licensees' channel-capacity components should be the same or improved, with the possible exception of new interference created by new frequency neighbors.

“People are not rebanding because of a lack of signal; they are rebanding because of interference,” Malkawi said. “Interference is the determining factor.”

Previously, executing the computations necessary to determine interference risks was a time-consuming process, but Malkawi said that AIM's patent-pending algorithms allow the company to complete in seconds what used to take hours. In addition, he said the cost is not prohibitive — an urban area that would require a $60,000 RSSI drive test could also include interference information for $63,000.

“If it's not a big issue on pricing, we think [interference testing] will be very attractive,” Malkawi said.

However, Andrew Seybold, Outlook 4 Mobility consultant, questioned the accuracy of any baseline drive test if only one test is done before and after a licensee has been rebanded.

“If I do a single drive test, that's not conclusive — that's why carriers like Sprint and Cingular conduct their drive tests almost continuously,” Seybold said. “I'm very skeptical that a single drive test before rebanding and a single drive test after rebanding is going to prove or disprove anything.”

Compensation for licensees' internal time also was not addressed fully. Although the handbook did provide a formula for determining an hourly wage for salaried employees' time (salary divided by 2080), exactly what tasks Nextel must fund is not addressed. Many licensees have asked whether Nextel will pay for time spent educating elected officials, interoperability partners or themselves about rebanding.

The handbook does state that vendors will not be compensated for time spent preparing bids or quotes. For some of the more complex systems, this may not be practical, said Chuck Jackson, Motorola vice president and director of systems operations.

“If it's simply taking a half-day and giving an estimate on a conventional system, that's not an issue,” Jackson said. “But, if you have to give an estimate on a large system … some of those are incredibly complex and will take a lot longer.