2019 LMR licensing activity hits all-time low for public safety, with slight gain for enterprises
Public-safety land-mobile-radio (LMR) licensing activity hit a new all-time low level for the third consecutive year in 2019, while LMR licensing in the business-industrial sector saw a slight increase while hovering near all-time low levels, according to data in the FCC’s online Universal Licensing System (ULS) database.
A total of 3,042 public-safety LMR license applications filed during 2019 have been granted by the FCC, with another 105 applications pending as of yesterday, according to ULS data. The 3,042 granted public-safety applications would represent 4.7% decrease from the previous all-time low level of 3,193 set in 2018. If all pending applications are approved, the 3,147 figure would mean the decrease would narrow to a 1.4% drop, but it still would be an all-time low.
Of the 105 public-safety LMR applications still pending before the FCC, 79 were submitted by Los Angeles County during the last week of 2019 that seek licenses to utilize T-Band spectrum (that has been frozen by the FCC while policymakers try to determine the future of T-Band frequencies.
In the business-industrial arena, the FCC has granted 10,772 applications that were submitted during 2019, with another 26 applications pending. If all of the pending applications are approved, the 10,798 licenses would represent a 0.9% increase compared to the 10,699 business-industrial license granted in 2018—marking the second consecutive year that business-industrial LMR licenses have increased.
Despite the recent increased activity, the business-industrial LMR licensing figures are not especially encouraging. If all pending applications are approved, the 2019 figure of 10,798 licenses would be the third-lowest figure in the history of the online ULS database—dating back to 2001—and is a 5.1% improvement over the all-time low figure of 10,276 business-industrial LMR licenses granted in 2017.
While recent LMR licensing numbers largely have leveled in recent years, a longer-term comparison reveals much more dramatic trends.
If all pending public-safety applications are granted, the 3,147 licenses for 2019 would be a 70.3% decrease compared to the 10,602 public-safety licenses granted in 2012, the year before the FCC’s narrowbanding deadline took effect. Perhaps more relevant is the fact that this 2019 figure would represent a 25.9% drop from the 4,248 public-safety applications granted in 2015, well after narrowbanding should have been a factor.
Similar trends appear in the business-industrial LMR licensing numbers. If all pending business-industrial applications are granted, the 10,798 licenses would represent a 63.5% drop compared to the all-time high of 29,569 applications approved in the prime narrowbanding year of 2012. This 2019 figure would represent a 39.6% decrease from the 17,865 business-industrial LMR licenses approved by the FCC in 2015.
It is early in the year, but the ULS database indicates that 549 public-safety LMR license applications have been filed as of yesterday. If all applications are granted, this pace would project to a total of less than 2,700 licenses granted, which would represent a significant decrease compared to 2019. However, it should be noted that this year’s pace is ahead of the licensing activity at this time last year, when the year-end total topped 3,100 public-safety license applications.
In the business-industrial sector, a total of 2,206 applications have been filed with the FCC so far this year. If all pending applications are granted, this pace would project a total that would be similar to the business-industrial figures posted during the last two years.
Industry sources have offered many theories behind the decrease in LMR licensing activity. Some have noted the maturity of the LMR market and that many systems do not need to be altered after narrowbanding was completed, while others point to a reduced need to increase LMR voice capacity, because a growing amount of communications are transmitted via text, data, photos and video.
In addition, some sources cite the impact that push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) technologies are having. Many enterprises—particularly hotels and other hospitality entities—have opted for PoC solutions to meet their push-to-talk needs, often leveraging their investments in Wi-Fi systems to support the communications.
Public-safety agencies utilize PoC technology, but it typically is an augmentation to an LMR system—for instance, a method to extend the effective range of an LMR network—not as a replacement. Anecdotally, sources indicated that some governments are limiting their LMR investments until their agencies can evaluate services based on 3GPP’s mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard. MCPTT generally is not available in the U.S., but AT&T is expected to introduce an MCPTT offering to FirstNet users by the end of the month.