Enterprises prepare T-Band applications to alter systems after lengthy FCC freeze
Many business enterprises currently licensed to operate land-mobile-radio (LMR) networks on T-Band spectrum (470-512 MHz) are taking the first step this week toward making the first significant updates to their systems in almost nine years, when the FCC froze the band in anticipation of an auction that recently was scrapped.
Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA)—the largest frequency coordinator for business/industrial LMR licencees—said that EWA and other frequency coordinators will submit new applications from incumbent T-Band applications into a queue Thursday morning. A flurry of activity is expected, he said.
“There is pent-up demand,” Crosby said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“I love having the band back. I think it will also spur greater usage … I’ve actually talked to a couple of members who are going, ‘This is a tremendous opportunity for me to go out to public safety and to business enterprises and go, the band is back The technologies are all there, and this is an opportunity for you to use it for some meaningful purpose.’”
Frequency coordinators will be able to submit T-Band applications for incumbent business-industrial licensees into a queue to one another beginning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, Crosby said. Although applications can be submitted to the queue for a month, most are expected to available for frequency coordinators to review within seconds of the 8:00 a.m. opening of the process on Thursday, he said.
“The band was frozen for nine years, and then we got 30 days from the time the freeze was modified to … now adapt and get applications [prepared] on Feb. 18—the freeze was only lifted on Jan. 19,” Crosby said during a recent EWA webinar about the T-Band process for business-industrial licensees.
“What will happen normally is that 99% of the applications are filed between 8:00 a.m. and 8:01 a.m.”
Frequency coordinators will be able to review applications and resolve any conflicts before submitting the applications formally to the FCC next month.
We will have 30 days to work out any issues,” Crosby said during the EWA webinar. “I don’t anticipate major issues, but all of the coordinators will then have 30 days—until March 21—to submit the apps to the FCC.
“So, the coordinators have the apps, and we make sure that there are no conflicts, etc., during this 30-day period.”
An important aspect of the FCC licensing process associated with T-Band licenses is that only incumbents—existing licensees in the band—are eligible to make license applications that can expand their LMR networks through at least June 21, Crosby said.
“If you’re not an incumbent, don’t file, because we can’t process any non-incumbent apps,” he said, noting that the FCC has not determined when—or if—non-incumbents will be allowed to file license applications to operate systems on T-Band spectrum.
In addition, any T-Band licensees wanting to expand the coverage of their systems need to use spectrum-efficient technology. Crosby said.
Because the T-Band spectrum was supposed to be auctioned, the FCC did not required T-Band systems to meeting the agency’s narrowbanding mandate that became effective in 2013 for other LMR systems operating on spectrum below 512 MHz. But T-Band licensees wanting to alter their systems significantly—for instance, to increase their coverage footprints—must meet the narrowbanding standards.
“If you’re an incumbent and you want to modify your system, … you’ve got to be narrowband-compliant,” Crosby said.
To date, the FCC has not indicated that LMR systems that fail meet the narrowbanding standards—systems that still use 25 kHz-wide channels, as opposed to 12.5 kHz- or 6.25 kHz-equivalent channels—must be updated to meet the spectrum-efficiency guidelines, but Crosby said he suspects such action will be taken eventually.
Although the FCC has not established separate rules for public-safety and business-industrial licensees operating in the T-Band, Crosby urged public-safety licensees to check with public-safety frequency coordinators about the procedures for their systems.
This FCC process for the T-Band spectrum was established after then-President Donald Trump signed funding legislation in late December that included language repealing a mandate that the FCC begin auctioning T-Band spectrum this month.
Repealing the T-Band auction had broad-based, bipartisan support among regulators, lawmakers, federal staff, and those in the LMR and wireless industries.
The FCC froze T-Band activity in April 2012, less than two months after Congress enacted tax-relief legislation that included language creating the FirstNet Authority to build and maintain a nationwide public-safety broadband network. While that law allocated an additional 10 MHz of spectrum to the FirstNet public-safety mission, it also required public safety to vacate its T-Band spectrum in 11 metropolitan markets and for those airwaves to be made available for commercial use in a auction process that was supposed to begin this month.
“You were able to do an assignment. You were able to add emission designators,” Crosby said. “You could do all of that stuff, but you could not increase your coverage area, because then you would change the spectrum landscape.”
Crosby said he and others in the LMR industry are relieved that the T-Band spectrum again is open for business.
“We got the band back,” Crosby said during the EWA webinar. “It was touch and go for nine years.”