Licensees of LMR networks operating at 800 MHz near the U.S.-Mexico border can begin rebanding their system after the two countries reached a spectrum-sharing agreement for the 800 MHz band, as well as a separate deal for spectrum sharing of 1.9 GHz airwaves.

In 2004, the FCC identified the need for a new spectrum agreements with Mexico and Canada when commissioners voted to proceed with a plan that call for reconfiguration of 800 MHz spectrum to alleviate interference to public-safety networks that would be funded by Nextel Communications, which is now part of Sprint Nextel.

“These agreements with Mexico will unleash investment and benefit consumers near the borders by enabling the rollout of advanced wireless broadband service and advanced systems for critical public safety and emergency response communications,” Chairman Julius Genachowski stated. “I appreciate the commitment and dedication of agency staff and those at the State Department who made these important agreements possible.”

Without such a spectrum deal, 800 MHz licensees were not allowed to reband their systems. While a similar border arrangement was reached with Canada last year, the much-anticipated deal with Mexico was announced last Friday.

“We applaud the work of FCC staff and other officials who have been pursuing such an agreement for several years,” Gregg Riddle, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said in a prepared statement.

Myriad disputes and delays have caused rebanding to take much longer than the three-year timetable initially established by the FCC that called for the massive project to be finished in the summer of 2008. More than 80% of the 859 non-border licensees have completed rebanding, but two licensees still have not reached agreements to reband, according to a report filed last week by Sprint Nextel.

Although the 270 licensees along the U.S.-Canadian border have been able to reband for less than a year, 95% of them have signed rebanding deals, and 66% of them have completed the process or no longer need to retune their systems.

Whether this pace can be duplicated along the southern border of the U.S. is questionable, according to Alan Tilles, who represents many LMR licensees as a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker. Although the details of the U.S.-Mexico agreement have not been published, the expected elimination of existing offset channels is just one reason why executing the rebanding process in the Mexican border area could be time consuming, he said.

“Without having looked at it yet, I think it’s a much more complicated set of dominoes than the Canadian border was,” Tilles said.

In addition to the 800 MHz band, the new agreement also addresses the 1.9 GHz band, where Sprint Nextel received 10 MHz of spectrum as part of the compensation it received for funding the rebanding project and vacating some 800 MHz spectrum. With the new agreement, Sprint Nextel will be allowed to deploy CDMA service along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to an FCC press release.