LAS VEGAS — An FCC official last week reiterated that the narrowbanding deadline of Jan. 1, 2013, remains in place and that the agency is prepared to take enforcement action against licensees that do not comply.

During a general session at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE), FCC attorney Roberto Mussenden bluntly dismissed long-rumored speculation that licensees can avoid narrowbanding by agreeing to operate their systems on a secondary basis.

“That would be operating in violation of your license,” Mussenden said. “It’s not secondary; it’s illegal.”

Under the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate, LMR systems must transition from operating on 25 kHz channels to 12.5 kHz channels by the end of next year. Although the FCC has indicated that it plans eventually to mandate 6.25 kHz operation at some point, the commission has not established a date for that narrowband transition.

In terms of the 2013 deadline, Mussenden said the FCC is prepared to take enforcement action, if necessary, “whether it’s an immediate fine, an admonishment or however it goes.” For public-safety entities that do not comply with narrowbanding, Mussenden said interference complaints likely would come from other public-safety agencies in the area.

“If I’ve got to choose between the person who is protecting the safety of life and property who’s operating in compliance of our rules and one that’s not, it’s really not a tough choice,” he said.

With this in mind, Mussenden said licensees should narrowband their systems in a timely manner to avoid “burning time and money” talking with FCC officials instead of focusing on normal job duties. Session moderator Alan Tilles, a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, noted that paying for legal representation while dealing with the FCC could get expensive for licensees.

“Put the money into radios, not me,” Tilles said.

While acknowledging the current difficult economy, Tilles said licensees should view the narrowbanding mandate as a chance to secure funds for communications upgrades that would not be considered without the FCC rules.

“Public safety keeps their radios for 10 to 20 years — railroads [keep them] longer,” Tilles said. “Think of all the technology changes that have happened over the past 10 years. This is an opportunity to make your system do things that it couldn’t do before with all the features and functionality that are now available from narrowbanding-capable radios, whether it’s 12.5 or 6.25 or whatever.

“I know it’s a bad economy. But I’ve never heard a public-safety agency say, ‘We’re flush with cash.’ It’s always a funding crisis; it’s never going to be better, I promise. Take this federal mandate … [as an] opportunity to reach forward to make your system do new things that your users really want.”