Every year after IWCE, we reflect on what we learned from attendees and exhibitors. This year, there were several themes that came through loud and clear.

First, an increasing number of users, including public safety and large enterprise users, see IWCE as the place to receive their wireless information and knowledge. Dissatisfied with the amount of wireless emphasis at other shows, IWCE is clearly the choice for land mobile education. The Land Mobile 101 course continues to attract large numbers of attendees, particularly IT folks who have been given the responsibility of overseeing their organization's wireless system.

Second, people are burning out on the misery of rebanding. While the session room was full, about three-quarters of the attendees were employees of the TA, Sprint Nextel or one of the manufacturers. When I asked one IWCE attendee (a client) why he didn't come to the session, he said that I was already giving him all of the information, so hearing it again didn't seem to be a good use of his time. I guess people can only stand so much depression.

Third, public safety licensees are still confused by the FCC's decision regarding the 700 MHz band and what it means for licensees who already are building out systems. There clearly is a large interest in building out 700 MHz systems, but much work remains to be done with licensees to ensure clarity in the necessary spectrum moves.

Fourth, many microwave licensees did not know that the FCC auctioned off the 2.1 GHz band, and the winning licensee has the right to force the incumbent to move to a different band (while paying for the costs of the move). While the rules are slightly different than 800 MHz rebanding, there seems to be shock that the auction even took place. Negotiating the right deal is no small task.

Fifth, and perhaps most important, many licensees are totally confused by the FCC's mandate to narrowband Part 90 radio systems between 150 and 512 MHz. Too many licensees are not aware that they must operate with 12.5 kHz bandwidth channels (or equivalent efficiency) by 2013. Or they may be aware but believe that failure to do so will only mean secondary operation. In fact, it will mean license revocation.

Education regarding 800 MHz rebanding was a major challenge. However, most of the radio systems in that band are significant in size, and licensees generally are somewhat in touch with FCC decisions. In contrast, many licensees in the 150 and 450 MHz bands are very small entities with little FCC contact. They often don't belong to a trade association and get much of their news by word of mouth. Thus, educating the industry on narrowbanding will be much more difficult than rebanding at 800 MHz. Certainly, we do this at every trade show that we can, but far too many licensees in these bands do not attend trade shows. A more widespread effort must be undertaken.

Although the 2013 deadline seems far off, it actually is quite close for public safety agencies with long budget cycles. Therefore, the process must start now to ensure a successful completion by the applicable deadline. To get started, review this chart from a presentation I made at the 2008 APCO Winter Summit. (Go to www.shulmanrogers.com/CM/Custom/MandatoryNarrowbanding.pdf for the full presentation.)

Although narrowbanding won't be as exciting as 800 MHz rebanding, it presents a daunting task in scope and magnitude. Start planning today.


Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.

CURRENT NARROWBANDING RULES

ISSUE RELEVANT DATE
New 25 kHz wideband applications Jan. 1, 2011
Modification applications to expand contours of 25 kHz systems Jan. 1, 2011
Paging-only channels Do not narrowband!
End of manufacturer building or importing 25 kHz-only equipment Jan. 1, 2011
Mandatory B/ILT 12.5 kHz conversion Jan. 1, 2013
Mandatory PS 12.5 kHz conversion Jan. 1, 2013
End of equipment certification of 12.5 kHz-only equipment without 6.25 kHz equivalent mode Jan. 1, 2011
Mandatory 6.25 kHz conversion Not until “technology matures”