Progress in Mexico means 800 MHz rebanding “close” to being done, FCC official tells NPSTC board
With key 800 MHz licensees in Mexico completing their spectrum relocation, there is a “light at the end of [the] tunnel” of the massive and oft-delayed 800 MHz rebanding initiative, an FCC official recently told the governing board of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).
“We’re close,” Michael Wilhelm, chief of the policy and licensing division of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, said during the NPSTC governing-board meeting earlier this month. “The only regions that have not been fully rebanded are in the Mexico border area.”
There are 29 licensees in Texas that need to retune their 800 radio systems, as well as 14 California and two in New Mexico, Wilhelm said.
“Most of the U.S. licensees that remain to be retuned are blocked from doing so by stations in Mexico,” Wilhelm said. “We’ve received excellent cooperation from Mexican government and licensees. AT&T Mexico, which was the most significant blocker in Mexico, has finished retuning all of its Mexico stations, and so have some of the other major Mexico users of the 800 MHz band.”
Wilhelm said the FCC is working with the IFT—the FCC’s regulatory counterpart in Mexico—to “accelerate” the rebanding efforts of other licensed 800 MHz systems in Mexico.
But rebanding all licensed 800 MHz networks in Mexico is not the only remaining challenge, according to Wilhelm.
“We’re also encountering some unauthorized stations—some 800 MHz stations in Mexico that we have no record of and IFT has no record of,” Wilhelm said. “IFT is investigating those at the moment, with help from our folks, who are triangulating the location of these stations, so that they can be shut down.”
FCC commissioners approved the 800 MHz rebanding initiative in 2004 amid reports of interference to public-safety radio systems from interleaved commercial systems in the 800 MHz band, primarily those owned by Nextel Communications. Nextel Communications was tasked with funding the relocation of all incumbent networks in the band.
This responsibility was assumed by Sprint, which purchased Nextel Communications in 2005. At that time, 800 MHz rebanding was scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2008—subject to a treaty with Mexico—and was expected to cost Sprint less than $1 billion, according to most estimates. Instead, multiple factors have resulted in the project’s completion being delayed by more than 10 years and Sprint paying more than $3.6 billion, according to Sprint’s SEC filings.