FCC data shows public-safety LMR licensing activity continues to drop during first half of 2019, while business sector remains flat
Public-safety land-mobile-radio (LMR) licensing activity during the first half of 2019 is lagging behind last year’s record-low pace, while LMR licensing activity in the business-industrial sector is almost identical to the first six months of 2018.
According to the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) database, the agency has received 1,451 applications for new and modified public-safety LMR licenses through June 30, which represents a 13.0% decrease compared to the 1,640 applications approved during the first half of 2018—a pace that resulted in all-time-low activity level for U.S. LMR licensing.
It is likely that this year-to-year deficit in public-safety LMR licensing activity is greater, because 248 of the applications cited for this year are pending. Although a high percentage of pending public-safety applications typically are approved, a few will not be granted. The above figures assume all pending applications will be granted.
Some industry analysts have noted that this year’s public-safety licensing could approach last year’s pace, if Motorola Solutions is allowed to begin building a proposed statewide P25 system in Florida. In the spring, Florida lawmakers approved state officials executing a contract with Motorola Solutions, but no deal has been announced. A court case, tight deadlines and some unique procurement language have caused many industry sources to question whether the statewide system can be completed by the June 2021 deadline.
While the pace of overall public-safety licensing activity is behind last year’s pace, a more dramatic decrease occurred in number of new LMR licenses sought. During the first six months of 2019, 501 applications for new public-safety LMR licenses were filed with the FCC, which represents an 18.8% decrease—if all of this year’s pending applications were granted, which is unlikely—compared to the 617 new licenses granted last year.
If public-safety LMR licensing activity at the end of the year does not match last year’s total of 3,191 licenses granted (seven other applications are still pending), it would mark the seventh consecutive year-to-year decrease for the sector and the third consecutive year of setting a record low mark since the FCC established ULS in 2001.
Most industry observers expected a decline in public-safety LMR licensing to occur after a spike in public-safety LMR applications was realized as agencies worked to meet the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate in 2013. But the public-safety licensing activity has fallen below the levels seen during the economic credit crisis of 2008 and before the 2001 terrorist attacks led to additional federal funding for first-responder communications.
One factor cited by many has been the advent of FirstNet, the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being built by AT&T, which has announced that mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) services will be offered to FirstNet subscribers by the end of the year.
Few expect U.S. first-responder agencies to abandon their LMR systems in the year in favor of using MCPTT-over-LTE technology for mission-critical voice communications. However, many industry sources have indicated that local-governments elected officials are hesitant to invest heavily in new LMR infrastructure—often a financial commitment of 10-15 years—until they can determine whether an LTE solution could be a viable alternative for mission-critical voice.
In the business-industrial sector, the pace of LMR licensing is virtually flat, with the FCC receiving 5,482 applications during the first half of this year. That figure represents a 1.7% increase compared to last year’s pace of 5,388, but it also includes 1,265 pending applications. If a normal percentage of the pending applications are granted, the business-industrial LMR applications approved during the first six months should be very close to the number for the same period in 2018.
Last year’s business-industrial LMR licensing activity represented the second-lowest level in the 19-year history of the FCC’s online ULS database, but it represented a 4.3% increase compared to the record-low figures posted in 2017.
One thing that has changed in the business-industrial sector is the number of applications seeking new licenses, as opposed to modifications to existing licenses. This year, the FCC has received 3,219 applications for new licenses, which is a 15.8% increase compared to the 2,779 new applications granted during the first half of 2018.