Encouraging signs of progress are being made in 800 MHz reconfiguration, but the three-year rebanding project is embarking on one of its most challenging phases over the next several months, according to the quarterly report released today by the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA).

More than half of all licensees nationwide in Channels 1-120 have signed an agreement with Sprint Nextel to clear their frequencies, and more than 25% of these licensees in Wave 1 and Wave 2 have completed the work, clearing the way for NPSPAC licensees to move into the spectrum.

With such progress, the process of clearing the Channel 1-120 licensees is “generally on target” and the program goal of clearing spectrum in at least 20 NPSPAC regions within the first 18 months “remains achievable,” the report states.

“Progress is being made,” TA Director Brett Haan said in an interview with MRT. “We’ve had a lot of process improvements and had a lot of buy-in from the stakeholder community. … I’m very positively inclined right now. We want to make sure that’s followed up by making sure that the licensees and all other stakeholders get actively engaged in the process.”

As hoped, lessons learned during Wave 1 negotiations involving Channel 1-120 licensees resulted in Wave 2 negotiations with such licensees proceeding “more expeditiously,” as evidenced by a notable decrease—from 47% to 35%—in the percentage of deals that were subjected to the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process.

But this trend probably won’t continue in Wave 3 for the Channel 1-120 negotiations. With more licensees in Wave 3 in a smaller geographic area—as well as complications associated with the existence of SouthernLINC in the region—the TA projects “a much larger number of mediations” being needed to complete clearing of Channel 1-120 licensees in the region.

“Licensees in the southeastern U.S. must be more aggressive in assembling their cost estimates and entering into negotiations with Sprint Nextel,” the report states. “Parties are also encouraged to seek early mediation when negotiations are not proceeding.”

The quarterly report also notes that some vendors’ failure to provide enough planning resources has resulted in several delays. The report also cautions vendors against proposing “one size fits all” planning services for licensees that may have markedly different systems.

“Unnecessary activities or costs only slow negotiations and TA reviews; in fact, most disputes between parties during negotiations are not over incumbent costs but rather vendor costs,” the report states.

Although most public-safety officials indicate that planning funding will be needed in many instances, only 97 public-safety licensees have submitted such requests, according to the report. Haan expressed optimism that the TA’s recently announced “fast track” procedure for planning-funding requests would encourage public-safety entities to apply for planning funding, if they need it.

In addition to clearing Channel 1-120 licensees, another key stage in rebanding is the Wave 1 negotiation phase for NPSPAC licensees, which recently was extended three months by the FCC order. Haan applauded the FCC’s decision.

“I think the timing was very, very good,” Haan said. “Coupled with our fast-track planning, I think public-safety entities in Wave 1 can see active leadership from public-safety organizations, collaborative participation by public safety, Sprint Nextel and the TA, and—of course—a very strong and very positive engagement by the Federal Communications Commission.”