ORLANDO--More than 100 public-safety licensees have finished the 800 MHz rebanding process and almost half of the non-border NPSPAC licensees have finalized deals with Sprint Nextel, a Transition Administrator official said during a panel at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Winter Summit.

While the Channel 1-120 licensees have almost all been reconfigured, 422 (47%) of the 908 NPSPAC licensees have final reconfiguration agreements with Sprint Nextel, said TA Director Brett Haan said. More important, this figure includes 101 (11%) NPSPAC licensees that have finished the process entirely, he said.

“The most important takeaway from this is that a lot of work has been done,” Haan said.

Echoing this sentiment was David Furth, associate bureau chief for the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, who cited rebanding momentum but also noted that “there’s still a great deal of work ahead.” While declining to offer figures, Furth said the FCC expects to receive “a lot” of waiver applications from NPSPAC licensees seeking additional time beyond the target completion date of June 26.

“In essence, the commission is saying, ‘We will give public safety the time they need to complete rebanding, provided that they show that they’ve been diligent in using the time they’ve had and that they’re not asking for more time than they actually need,’” Furth said.

“This is the point where the rubber really hits the road, in terms of getting this done. The commission will be reasonable in the time it provides, but it’s really up to everybody in the public-safety community to do the work.”

Long-awaited work in border areas may be able to begin in earnest in the near future, Furth said. An agreement in principle has been reached with Canada, and “intensive discussions” with Mexico have been “very positive,” Furth said.

“Those negotiations are at a critical point right now, and we should know very shortly whether we’re going to reach a final agreement,” he said. “As always, I remain optimistic.”

Furth emphasized the need for licensees to begin deploying subscriber equipment quickly, so infrastructure changes to their systems can be executed as soon as possible.

Scheduling for much of this work is being done at regional implementation planning sessions being conducted throughout the nation. Chuck Jackson, vice president and director of system operations at Motorola, was one of several panelists to applaud the planning sessions, where licensees, vendors and TA officials are able to address logistical and resource issues necessary to ensure a smooth transition.

Software upgrades of large radio systems in Colorado have gone well, but Jackson asked that NPSPAC licensees carefully check their rebanding-related orders, which have seen a 25% rate of return, compared to Motorola’s typically has a rate of return of only 1%.

“The details are very, very important here,” Jackson said.
Scheduling details also are important, particularly as vendor resources get stretched amid an increase in rebanding work, said Danielle Marcella, senior project manager for M/A-COM.

“We are starting to see a drain on suppliers and materials to ship radios, and our ship dates are getting further and further out,” Marcella said. “So, before you commit to an actual move date, we would ask that you coordinate with us to make sure we can actually get what you need to meet the dates you are committed to.”

Sprint Nextel’s John Wehmann said he believes rebanding progress is encouraging but expressed growing frustration created by multiple FCC rulings. Wehmann said tight FCC guidelines regarding rebanding negotiations and the agency’s position that Sprint Nextel should abandon its 800 MHz channels even if public safety is not ready to use the frequencies are unrealistic, particularly as licensees seek extensions during a time of “waiver mania.”

“The extensions are necessary. People are asking for them,” Wehmann said. “The hard part we have is that, while those extensions are being granted, there doesn’t seem to be any extension granted to us.”

Sprint Nextel has filed a case in federal appeals court to overturn an FCC order that requires Sprint Nextel to vacate its 800 MHz spectrum on June 26—a prospect that could significantly impact the carrier’s ability to provide services on its iDEN network, which counts 3 million public-safety subscribers among its users.

“I think one of the most frustrating things is that it feels like rebanding is no longer a joint effort,” Wehmann said. “When we started this, it was public safety, Sprint Nextel and the FCC trying to fix interference and trying to get the band reconfigured as quickly and as easily as we can. Obviously, I’m biased, but it seems like a lot of the penalties hanging out there are hanging over Sprint Nextel.”