T-Band edicts create uncertainty for business-industrial users
A new law and subsequent ruling from the FCC have left business-industrial entities that operate in the T-Band in limbo and questioning what their next moves should be, according to Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) CEO Mark Crosby.
Recently, the FCC issued a public notice that effectively freezes systems in the T-Band — spectrum from 470-512 MHz that is used for public-safety and business-industrial LMR networks in 11 of the largest U.S. markets — as the agency determines how to implement legislation enacted in February mandating that public safety must vacate the spectrum within 9 to 11 years.
During a recent webinar, Crosby said that he believes business-industrial users of the T-Band also will have to vacate the airwaves, although the new law does not mention the business-industrial sector. Crosby said he believes the oversight may be the result of the T-Band giveback being included in the legislation as a last-minute option.
“OK, great, the T-Band gets thrown in there to balance things, and no one knew about the ramifications,” he said. “They probably didn’t know that business-industrial was using it and that public safety only had a couple of systems out there.”
While the FCC public notice removing the requirement for T-Band systems to be narrowbanded was a relief for some operators in the band, the rules established in the last month have created significant confusion in the marketplace, Crosby said.
“A whole bunch of them were halfway through narrowbanding, they were doing new technologies, they’re increasing their throughput, the new equipment has new feature sets,” he said. “They’ve got businesses, they’ve got cash flow, and they’re relying on it … but like Pig Pen, they’ve got a black cloud over them now.”
Indeed, while there is a requirement for the public-safety T-Band users to move, these narrowband systems have no obviously available comparable spectrum available for relocation — a fact that the city of Chicago has noted in its filing with the FCC. There is some hope within public-safety circles that mission-critical voice over broadband will be a viable option in the next decade, so these functions could be moved to 700 MHz broadband spectrum.
But business-industrial users do not even have this option, which is creating anxiety within the user base, Crosby said. Even if they are not required to move, the absence of public-safety users in the future would result in the T-Band becoming an “orphaned band” that would get decreased attention from the manufacturing community, he said.
For business-industrial entities focused on operating profitable enterprises, keeping track of such policy nuances can be difficult, Crosby said.
“They’re nervous,” he said. “As far as they know, tanks are coming and are going to knock down their towers next week. They go, ‘We’ve got a regulatory Katrina coming our way.’ That’s why we’ve got organizations like EWA to say, ‘Don’t jump to conclusions.’”
Business-industrial users should not panic, but it is important that they monitor the situation closely, particularly if they are considering making a significant investment in their system, Crosby said. With this in mind, EWA will create a new informational group that will be focused on business-industrial impacts. In addition, Crosby expressed support for the T-Band working group that the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) is establishing.
Meanwhile, the EWA board will need to determine the organization’s formal positions on T-Band issues, which could occur as soon as late this month, Crosby said.