800 MHz rebanding work nears completion, could be finished in less than a year, according to FCC official
Originally slated to be a three-year project that would be completed more than a decade ago, the 800 MHz rebanding initiative is nearing completion and could be done next year, according to information from an FCC official and a recent FCC filing from Sprint, which has funded the massive rebanding effort.
Michael Wilhelm, chief of the policy and licensing division of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB), said that rebanding has involved the spectral reconfiguration of tens of thousands base stations owned by more than 2,171 licensees. As of last month, only 25 stations located along the U.S.-Mexico border still needed to be done, he said.
“It’s very close to being complete—we’re on the final lap,” Wilhelm said during the annual FCC regulatory panel at the APCO 2019 event in Baltimore. “We hope that, by next year at this time, maybe I or David [Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau] can sit on this panel and say that 800 MHz rebanding is history.”
In 2004, FCC commissioners reached an agreement with cellular carrier Nextel Communications to fund all costs associated with rebanding, which involved moving interleaved LMR and Nextel iDEN channels into contiguous spectral swaths in the 800 MHz band. Wilhelm said the primary goal of the massive engineering initiative—a reduction in the interference between the cellular and LMR signals—appears to have been met.
“The most important fact: As we conclude rebanding, we can look at the site used for reporting interference from cellular and from Sprint and find that the number of complaints has dwindled to a very, very small amount,” Wilhelm said. “In other words, what we set out to do in 2002 [when the notion of 800 MHz was proposed formally at the FCC] we’ve succeeded in doing, and we succeeded in doing it while painting a moving train.
“By that, I mean that, while stations were being rebanded, they had to continue operating and offering service to first responders. That was a monumental task that involved some very ingenious technical solutions, and some hard work by some very skilled engineers.”
Although the FCC reached its 800 MHz rebanding agreement with Nextel Communications in 2004, the cellular carrier merged with Sprint the following year, so Sprint accepted the obligation of funding all 800 MHz rebanding work, which originally was scheduled to begin in 2005 and be completed in 2008.
But myriad issues arose during the negotiating process for many rebanding initiatives, and the massive project was delayed numerous times. In addition, U.S. and Mexico officials struggled for years to reach a treaty agreement outlining how 800 MHz communications systems along the southern U.S. border would be handled, meaning networks in that area could not begin the rebanding process for years.
Overall, Sprint has paid more than $3.6 billion in total rebanding costs, according to Wilhelm.
Last week, Sprint filed its monthly 800 MHz progress report with the FCC, noting that only six licensees still have outstanding 800 MHz rebanding work to complete. Only two of these licensees are classified as public-safety users, and both are located in the Texas-El Paso region, according to the Sprint report.