Moving forward to implementation
“There are now more Stage 2 licensees engaged in implementation than in planning or negotiations, and the TA’s focus is increasingly shifting from negotiations to implementation.”
As someone who has lived and breathed the 800 MHz reconfiguration for the past three years, I was heartened (although not surprised) when I read these words in the 800 MHz Transition Administrator Quarterly Report. It is a clear acknowledgement that reconfiguration is making significant progress.
The latest numbers back this up. As I write this, Stage 1 is 95% complete — nearly 1200 Stage 1 licensees have been retuned without a single major disruption. Well over half of the 900 non-border area, Stage 2 licensees have signed frequency reconfiguration agreements (FRAs) with Sprint and are busy retuning thousands of radios and other equipment. In fact, more than 100 Stage 2 licensees have completed their retunes and are successfully operating on their new channels.
Thanks largely to the TA’s regional planning meetings, Sprint and a significant number of public safety licensees have been able to develop regional cutover schedules. As a result, tentative channel-clearing plans have been established for more than 500 public safety licensees. Approximately 145 Phase II NPSPAC licensees have established dates with Sprint for starting and completing their physical retuning work.
Significantly for our 20 million iDEN customers — including 3 million public safety customers — we’ve been able to do this while achieving best-ever network performance after significant capital investments each of the last two years.
Even for those not yet in the implementation phase, things are moving forward. More than one-third of the remaining licensees have completed their planning work and are actively negotiating their FRAs, while the remaining two-thirds of the licensees have signed planning funding agreements (PFAs) and are working with their vendors and consultants to complete their planning activities and prepare a cost estimate to submit to Sprint. When it comes to public safety communications, failure is not an option, and some of these licensees have made it clear they need additional time to plan to avoid disruptions and ensure a smooth transition. As a result, everyone involved in retuning has acknowledged that many of these licensees will not complete rebanding before the June deadline.
While licensees are retuning their equipment or conducting planning activities, Sprint is working to ensure that having replacement channels available is not — and will not be — a gating factor in scheduling public safety retunes. Sprint has spent three years intensively planning for the synchronous channel swaps so we can turn over the new channels to public safety licensees within 60 days of a request.
For sure, challenges remain, such as the need for the FCC to complete negotiations with Canada and Mexico regarding the border areas, and the ongoing management of the regional planning schedules and resources. Still, it is important not to lose sight of how far we’ve come and what the ultimate goal is. While it may take longer than anyone thought or wanted, the fact is this: Together we are making strong progress toward completing reconfiguration and eradicating interference between public safety and commercial cellular systems in the 800 MHz band.
Patricia Tikkala, vice president of spectrum management at Sprint Nextel, has more than 13 years of experience in the wireless industry. Since 2006 she has been in charge of managing the execution of Sprint Nextel’s role in reconfiguring the 800 MHz spectrum band.