In-building systems a challenge for 800 MHz rebanding
While most big-picture attention in the public-safety communications community is focused on the 700 MHz band, the rebanding of 800 MHz continues to progress — slower than federal officials initially hoped, but progress nonetheless.
About half of the National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee licensees in the non-border areas have completed their rebanding work, though many still have to sort through accounting issues to truly finish the job. Still, more than 10% of these licensees have yet to reach a contractual agreement with Sprint Nextel, so they have not started the work yet.
One of the most telling statements made during last month’s APCO conference in Las Vegas was from Steve Proctor, executive director of the Utah Communications Agency Networks (UCAN), who noted that his organization logged an hour and half of administrative time for every hour of technical time spent on rebanding. An attendee in the session said he estimated that his agency had spent three hours of administrative time for every hour of technical work.
But at least folks like Proctor are operating on the new band plan. Work along the Canadian border still is in the early stages, and agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border still await an international agreement, so they can get started.
Having an accurate inventory of what needs to be rebanded is critical to the process moving smoothly. As recent history has proven, that can be a tough task for a licensee, which also is responsible for ensuring that all components of the other users on their systems — for example, various cities and counties on a regional or statewide system — get rebanded, as well.
Even more challenging are the parts of systems that the licensees and users are not responsible for maintaining on a daily basis. For instance, it may be easy to miss the land-mobile radio given to a former mayor. Of course, that oversight probably won’t endanger lives.
Potentially more dangerous is failing to account for in-building systems installed by building owners, which are not part of the licensee’s core network that is maintained on a regular basis. Even in places where an ordinance exists — so there is a written record of in-building systems — these systems can be overlooked, particularly if the city/county with the ordinance is not the licensee of the regional or state radio system being used.
The good news is that those on the forefront of rebanding are aware of the problem and are trying to address it. The bad news is that not everyone affected is at the forefront, and even the most diligent have acknowledged that some in-building systems could “slip through the cracks” and not get rebanded when reimbursement from Sprint Nextel is possible.
Hopefully, only a minimal number of in-building systems fall into this category, and even those that exist can be identified and rectified in a timely manner — not after a first-responder suffers an injury or death because of an inability to communicate from inside a facility that used to provide in-building coverage.