Industry points to multiple warning signs about narrowbanding
LAS VEGAS — Licensees of land-mobile radio (LMR) systems operating below 512 MHz are supposed to complete narrowbanding — the FCC-mandated process of transitioning networks from 25 kHz channels to 12.5 kHz channels — by the end of the year, but there is mounting evidence that many licensees will fail to meet the deadline.
Last year, the FCC indicated that 225,000 licensees needed to narrowband their systems, but only about 20% of those have completed the task, according to Peter Moncure, CEO of RadioSoft.
“It’s not a year later, and there are still 180,000 of them [that have not completed narrowbanding],” Moncure said during a narrowbanding workshop at IWCE. “If you do the math, they’re not going to get it done.”
More than 20 entities have waiver requests that have been posted on the FCC website, but many more have been filed but are still being processed, according to Alan Tilles, a partner in the law firm of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker.
“There’s going to be hundreds [of narrowbanding waivers filed],” Tilles said during an interview.
While the majority of waiver filings seek an additional six months or a year to complete narrowbanding projects — or plans to deploy radio systems in other bands — that already are in process, some entities are seeking extensions of three years or more.
Still other UHF and VHF licensees do not have plans to narrowband or to file a waiver, according to Jim Foley, CEO of Tactical Public Safety, a New Jersey–based systems integrator for Harris.
“We’re actually very surprised at the number of people who, for lack of a better term, are ignoring the narrowbanding mandate,” Foley said. “A lot of people don’t seem to care or don’t seem to think that there’s going to be any repercussions if they don’t do it.
“We keep hearing things like, ‘The FCC’s not going to do anything. What are they going to do, spend all their time coming around to catch everybody who didn’t do this?’ We’re very surprised at the amount of people who have taken a very lackadaisical attitude toward the whole thing.”
Similar stories are being told by other dealers. One Wisconsin dealer said he believes his public-safety clients all have a plan — albeit one that may not meet the meet the FCC’s Jan. 1 deadline — but estimates that only 20% of the enterprises he serves are prepared to narrowband.
Those who ignore narrowbanding are taking a “business risk,” Tilles said. All affected licensees that do not meet the narrowbanding mandate will be considered to be in violation of FCC rules, which could include suspension of a license or hefty fines.
FCC officials have indicated that enforcement of narrowbanding rules will be done on a complaint basis, Tilles said. Enforcement likely will be strict for enterprises than public safety, because of the mission-critical nature of public-safety LMR. However, public-safety entities such as jail radio systems have been shut down under similar circumstances. Tilles said.
Given the backlog of narrowbanding procedures at the FCC and in radio shops, those licensees that do not have a plan to narrowband may not be able to secure the regulatory and technical resources needed to meet the year-end deadline, according to numerous industry sources.
Meanwhile, narrowbanding is creating unique opportunities throughout the market, particularly in the area of spectrum acquisition, Moncure said. In addition to the more efficient spectrum utilization of narrowbanding creating new swaths of available airwaves, there are some licensees with old systems that are opting to abandon their licenses rather than spend money to narrowband aging systems.
“If you want spectrum, now is the time to ask,” Moncure said.