If asked, “How many state and local government agencies have begun their VHF/UHF migration to 12.5 kHz,” would you say 90% … 75% … 50% … 10%? Well, I heard all of these answers during my travels last year. Some agencies are well along the migration path, while others are just beginning.

Many agencies waited to see whether the FCC would extend the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. Well, that did not happen. Instead, the commission clarified the deadlines and the consequences in Public Notice DA 09-2589, which was issued last December. The notice states that, “Operation in violation of the commission's rules may subject licensees to enforcement action, including admonishments, monetary forfeitures and/or license revocation, as appropriate.”

Narrowband migration is here — and now! Only one to two budget cycles remain for an agency to raise money, design, purchase and implement a new narrowband radio system. The raising-money part may be the biggest challenge, with lower tax revenues and budgets tighter than ever. Many agencies may find a “two birds with one stone” strategy the best solution when facing this situation — that is, combining their narrowband and Project 25 interoperability programs, and then funding the combined program through one of the several federal grant programs that are available.

P25 radios are required to be backwards compatible to 12.5 kHz analog operation. You could operate new P25 radios on a 12.5 kHz analog system now (Bird No. 1) and migrate to a full P25 system later (Bird No. 2). Of course you could do both now and operate in a mixed mode with any 12.5 kHz analog radios you already have deployed.

Another possible strategy: replace your radios this year and upgrade your repeaters and RF infrastructure in the future. You'll meet your narrowband requirement before the deadline and perform a complete system interoperability upgrade in the future, when times are better.

Perhaps you are concerned about ensuring that radios purchased now will meet your needs in the future. The Department of Homeland Security's Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) and the various manufacturers' interoperability certifications will ensure that the radios you purchase today will be interoperable in your (and your neighbor's) P25 system in the future.

Given the myriad challenges outlined above, IWCE 2010 in Las Vegas needs to be on your calendar. Government agencies facing these situations will find many answers in the conference program. Among the relevant session titles are:

  • Narrowbanding — meet the myth busters
  • College of Technology: P25 101
  • P25 CAP program and how to use it
  • Migrating legacy systems
  • Leveraging federal funding
  • When to go all the way to 6.25 kHz
  • P25 Phase II
  • Federal, state and local partnerships

No matter how stretched your agency's budget is, attending IWCE will be a good investment. See P25 interoperable equipment on display. Talk to your peers about their migration plans. Learn lessons from those who already have migrated. Discuss these most important topics with industry experts.

The radio system decisions you make in the short term will have lasting impact, probably for the next 10 to 15 years. It is vital for your constituents that you have all the latest information and tools in order to make the best possible choices. See you in Las Vegas.

Chris Lougee is vice president at Icom America and leads its government and systems division.

Related Stories