A recent FCC action to grant an 8-year extension to the state of Louisiana for the narrowbanding of its 700 MHz LMR network may be the first step toward the commission establishing new rules to delay or eliminate the 700 MHz narrowbanding requirement nationwide.

Under existing FCC rules, 700 MHz narrowband networks for public safety must operate on 6.25 kHz-equivalent channels by the end of 2016. Earlier this month, the FCC granted the state of Louisiana’s request that its 700 MHz narrowband network—the Louisiana Wireless Information Network (LWIN)—not be required to meet the 6.25 kHz narrowbanding mandate until the end of 2024.

In its request, the state noted that the $165 million LWIN system has improved interoperability within Louisiana, and its designers planned the network in such a manner that no additional channels will be needed, so the spectrum-efficiency gains from a transition to 6.25 kHz technology would not be particularly helpful. However, such a transition would cost an estimated $417 million overall—$120 million to change the system and an additional $296 million to replace the subscriber units.

All commenters in the proceeding expressed support for the Louisiana waiver. Some echoed the cost and interoperability concerns, while others noted the fact that 700 MHz spectrum was not available for nationwide use until 2009, so many 700 MHz narrowband systems are relatively new, making it difficult to justify the significant costs associated with the move to 6.25 kHz channels.

In addition, the Brazos Valley (Texas) Wide Area Communications System (BVWACS) noted that maintaining the 2016 date for narrowbanding 700 MHz systems could make it more difficult for public-safety entities to migrate to the proposed nationwide 700 MHz broadband system that officials hope will support mission-critical voice eventually.

“Assuming that the nationwide broadband network can be ready to fully incorporate mission-critical voice in 10 years (2022), any 6.25 kHz narrowband voice equipment purchased in 2016 to meet the Dec. 31, 2016, deadline would only be six years old, thus becoming prematurely obsolete,” the BVWACS said in its filing.

In its ruling, the FCC decided only on the state of Louisiana filing, which was the only item for its consideration. However, many public-safety officials have expressed support for abolishing the 2016 narrowbanding date or extending the deadline to allow time for greater clarity in the mission-critical voice market.

Alan Tilles, who represents many public-safety entities as a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers, said that he believes the FCC will initiate a proceeding to re-evaluate the 2016 narrowbanding deadline for 700 MHz systems.

“It’s our understanding that the commission is looking to put out some kind of notice on 700 MHz narrowband, looking for comments on the issue generally, not just on Louisiana,” Tilles said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “What makes Louisiana different from any other 700 MHz jurisdiction? I’ve got to expect the FCC will see a flood of ‘me too’ filings. You’re not supposed to eviscerate a rule by the granting of multiple waivers, so I would think they would want to take a more comprehensive review.”

Tilles noted that the FCC action for Louisiana was an extension of the narrowbanding deadline for a 700 MHz system. The FCC is not altering its narrowbanding deadline for LMR systems operating on spectrum below 512 MHz, which will occur at the end of this year.