Land-mobile radio (LMR) systems should be excluded from a new standard for intrinsically safe portable devices that is scheduled to become effective in 11 months, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) stated in a position paper on the matter released last week.

Battery-operated devices such as portable LMR radios would need to be redesigned by Jan. 1, 2012, to meet the new FM Approvals 3610 standard, which requires handheld radios operate at significantly lower power levels than existing LMR equipment to be deemed intrinsically safe. Reduced portable power levels effectively would result in coverage gaps in LMR networks and a dramatically reduced peer-to-peer communications when a network is not available, according to industry sources.

To address the situation, public-safety agencies would need to buy new radios and add tower sites to their existing LMR systems to maintain the same coverage and functionality levels. Officials in Pinellas County, Fla., estimate it would cost between $36 million and $45 million to revamp the county’s 700/800 MHz Project 25 system, according to the position paper.

“This is an outrageous unfunded mandate that taxpayers will have to absorb to accommodate a standard that does nothing to improve public-safety communications,” the NPSTC paper states. “Every state in the country has invested millions of dollars in improving their communications for public safety. If these new standards are adopted, it would not only make most of these systems outdated but also put the states in a position of operating equipment below the standards because the majority would not have the funds to meet these new standards.”

With this in mind, NPSTC asked that the revised FM standard not be implemented until 2017 or that LMR radios be held to a separate intrinsically safe standard than other devices. If such as LMR-industry resolution is not chosen, NPSTC asked that public-safety systems be exempt from the intrinsically safe standard.

Given the short time frame and massive costs, the odds of the new FM standard being implemented against the will of public safety on Jan. 1, 2012, is “very slim,” said Alan Tilles, a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, who represents multiple public-safety agencies.

“The firestorm that would come down on [FM Approvals] in that event would be amazing,” Tilles said during an interview.

Late last year, officials for FM Approvals acknowledged the issues facing the industry and indicated that they would be willing to grandfather existing LMR systems in 2012 with one notable caveat: the networks could not be altered, even with software updates. Many industry sources question whether enterprises or governments would want to depend on LMR systems that could not receive software updates.

For more information on digital radios and radio over IP, attend these sessions at IWCE in Las Vegas, March 7-11, 2011.