Entities operating radio systems operating between 150 MHz and 512 MHz should be preparing to meet the Jan. 1, 2013, deadline to migrate their systems from 25 kHz channels to 12.5 kHz channel efficiency or equivalent, panelists said today during a webinar on narrowbanding hosted by Urgent Communications.

While there have been some in the wireless community who have questioned whether the FCC would enforce the 2013 deadline, any entity choosing not to meet the narrowbanding mandate is taking a risky position, said Roberto Mussenden, an attorney advisor with the policy division of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau (PSHSB).

“Non-compliant operation is prohibited,” Mussenden said. “It’s not secondary [usage], it’s prohibited.”

Mussenden said the FCC plans to issue a public notice before the end of the year to address some questions being asked about narrowbanding, but it won’t include any changes in the 2013 date. In addition, he reiterated a recent statement from PSHSB Chief Jamie Barnett that waiver requests would be reviewed with a high level of scrutiny, given the fact that users have known about the 2013 date for years.

“Remember that the overarching goal of the narrowbanding proceeding was to make additional channels available for users,” Mussenden said. “To go ahead and frustrate that, I can’t see the commission entertaining that lightly.”

While expressing full support for the 2013 deadline, Ralph Haller — chairman of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) — expressed concerns about the interim Jan. 1, 2011, narrowbanding deadline, after which equipment must have 6.25 kHz capability that may never be used by public safety and could result in operability and interoperability challenges for public-safety agencies.

Haller noted that public-safety users could receive distorted audio or audio with a low volume if the receiving radio and the base station were not in the same stage of narrowbanding. In addition, some agencies are experiencing degraded coverage after migrating to 12.5 kHz efficiency, depending on the design of the original system, Haller said.

Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance, said he is sympathetic to some of the interoperability issues impacting public safety that do not affect most enterprises. However, Crosby said he would prefer that such issues be handled via the waiver process instead of a dismissal or delay of the 2011 deadline, which might be perceived by some as the FCC wavering on its desire to see narrowbanding completed.

“I’m just concerned that this industry is so confused right now about narrowbanding that any extending of dates may just add to the confusion,” Crosby said.

Under the current rules, the FCC has mandated that equipment include a 6.25 kHz mode after the 2011 deadline. The commission has issued an order indicating its plans to eventually require licensees to narrowband to 6.25 kHz equivalency, but the agency has yet to set a firm date for such a transition.

Haller said the lack of a firm date for 6.25 kHz efficiency is creating uncertainty within the public safety community that it will be able to recoup its investment in 12.5 kHz technology. Mussenden noted that the FCC has been sensitive to depreciation and amortization schedules in the past and expects that approach to continue in the future.

All panelists noted that narrowbanding only guarantees the licensee a single channel with the same channel center as it currently has. Additional channels can be requested, “but you have to ask for them,” Crosby said.