Refarming effort needs a boost
It is difficult to write this column during the week of the Virginia Tech tragedy. I am certain that the coming weeks and months will reveal information that will aid us in limiting the opportunities for such events in the future. That review will certainly include how the communications system functioned.
In the meantime, in our efforts to aid and comfort those impacted, let’s not forget the Hokie EMS responders (who are students) as well as the dispatchers. Our thoughts are with them, as well.
How does one write a transition sentence to everything else going on in the world? There are no words to adequately do that, so I awkwardly will transition to another topic — thankfully something other than rebanding.
On March 26, the FCC released its Third Report & Order in the refarming (not rebanding) proceeding. If you recall, the FCC is considering making a transition to 6.25 kHz (or equivalent efficiency) bandwidth equipment at some point. The current mandatory deadline to 12.5 kHz (or equivalent efficiency) bandwidth equipment is Jan. 1, 2013.
In sum, the FCC declined to select a specific date for the 6.25 kHz transition, but the commission did specifically state that it will be done. The commission said that when 6.25 kHz technology matures, it will set a migration date for users. Therefore, the FCC “strongly urges licensees to consider the feasibility of migrating directly from 25 kHz to 6.25 kHz prior to Jan. 1, 2013.”
In addition, the FCC set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2011, for manufacturers to be able to type accept 12.5 kHz bandwidth efficiency equipment. In other words, as of Jan. 1, 2011, any new equipment submitted by manufacturers for type acceptance must specify 6.25 kHz (or equivalent efficiency) bandwidth operation.
This is a pretty strong statement from the FCC and certainly one that licensees should take seriously. It would probably be a controversial one if not for the fact that major manufacturers are now coming out with equipment that meets that standard. ICOM, Kenwood and Motorola now have equipment on the market that is 6.25 kHz bandwidth-efficient. I hear that others are on the way.
Motorola’s TDMA equipment uses two slots in a 12.5 kHz channel to achieve its 6.25 kHz efficiency, while ICOM and Kenwood use FDMA to create two actual 6.25 kHz channels. Also, both styles of equipment are backward-compatible, which will certainly aid graceful migrations.
So, if you haven’t already narrowed your efficiency to 12.5 kHz, should you make the leap to 6.25 kHz? There are many reasons to do so, most important of which is ensuring the long-term viability of your network. Certainly, any licensees should thoroughly investigate the advantages and the disadvantages of heeding the FCC’s advice before making any decision to buy.
Of course, a big consideration is how these differing technologies will work in the heavily shared land-mobile environment. This leads to many coordination issues that must be addressed. Fortunately, the Land Mobile Communications Council is on the case. LMCC is an umbrella organization consisting of all of the land mobile frequency coordinators, in addition to the Telecommunications Industry Association. LMCC is gathering information from the various manufacturers and developing coordination guidelines to ensure maximum spectrum efficiency, while minimizing interference.
Since refarming for these bands first came up, I have advocated creating an incentive for licensees to move to narrowband operations. Unfortunately, the FCC consistently has declined to do this, which in my mind has slowed the transition and made a 2013 mandatory date necessary. Perhaps LMCC, in making its coordination recommendations, can create a system that will provide that incentive.
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 [email protected].