KANSAS CITY—Already more than one month beyond the scheduled completion date for 800 MHz rebanding, public-safety licensees operating in the band are expected to drive the monumental engineering project to substantial completion during the next year, FCC representatives said this week during the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference.

“Sprint [Nextel, the wireless carrier paying for rebanding] wants to get this finished. I think a lot of the burden will fall on public safety to get this done,” Derek Poarch, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau (PSHSB), said on Monday. “Public-safety licensees need to push their consultants and vendors. If they’re having trouble, we’ll be happy to help them.”

In June, the FCC granted all waivers to all licensees that applied for more time to complete rebanding. Poarch said such a blanket waiver action would not be repeated next year.

“Time is running out, so we’re not going to keep going on with waivers,” Poarch said. “Don’t view the waiver [granted this year] as a stopgap and assume that you’ll get another 12-month waiver next year. I don’t expect that will happen for the majority of licensees.”

Indeed, many NPSPAC licensees may not need a waiver, because they have realistic prospects of completing the task by July 1, 2009, when most waivers granted this year will expire. To date, 24% of the NPSPAC licensees in Wave 1, 2 and 3 have completed rebanding, and 49% have negotiated rebanding agreements with Sprint Nextel, said Joe Boyer, a representative of the 800 MHz Transition Administrator.

Of the remaining 27% of licensees in the first three waves, 12% are in negotiations with Sprint Nextel, while the other 15%--136 licensees—still are in the planning stage and have not begun negotiations.

Although some licensees expressed disagreement with Poarch’s assessment regarding Sprint Nextel’s desire to complete rebanding as soon as possible, most associated with rebanding agreed that all significant overarching barriers appear to have been addressed, although individual issues continue to arise, particularly in larger systems with complex interoperability agreements.

Representatives of Motorola and Tyco Electronics M/A-COM expressed confidence that both of their companies have enough resources that they will not become a bottleneck to completing rebanding.

From the FCC’s perspective, a licensee will be considered completed with rebanding when its entire system is operating on its new channels, said David Furth, associated bureau chief for the PSHSB in charge of 800 MHz rebanding. While many licensees will have to perform multiple touches on radios after moving to new channels to address interoperability issues, such work does not concern the FCC as much, because interference issues will have been resolved and spectrum can be used as planned.

“We’re very focused on the timeline—we’re already in overtime, and we don’t want to go into double overtime or triple overtime,” Furth said. “What we’re focused on is when [licensees are] off the old band.”

While there has been substantial progress in rebanding the first three waves of NPSPAC licensees, Wave 4—the wave consisting primarily of licensees located near the Canadian or Mexican borders—is a different story.

A Canadian agreement is in place, so the 30-month “clock” for affected licensees will begin in October. Boyer said the TA is working on frequency assignments for Stage 1 licensees along the Canadian border and will address frequency assignments for NPSPAC licensees after that.

Meanwhile, there is no agreement with Mexico, meaning 800 MHz licensees along that border still must wait to get started on rebanding in earnest. However, the FCC is doing some preliminary work to ensure that rebanding along the Mexican border can be done as quickly as possible when the international negotiations are completed.

“We have a pretty good picture of what the [U.S.-Mexico] band plan should look like, from a technical perspective,” Furth said.