T-Band licensees submit new license applications to FCC
Land-mobile-radio (LMR) licensees operating on T-Band (470-512 MHz) spectrum last week submitted hundreds of license applications that could expand their coverage footprint for the first time in nine years, and the long-awaited process was executed without significant conflicts, according to sources familiar with the situation.
“Everything went well; there was no issue whatsoever,” Farokh Latif, frequency-coordination director for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), echoed this sentiment, describing any conflict between business-industrial T-Band licensees to be “nothing we can’t handle.”
Given the fact that FCC froze any expansion of T-Band systems in April 2012, many predicted considerable pent-up demand among incumbents to seek permission to make notable changes to their networks. Such a flurry of activity was realized when the filing window for T-Band applications opened on Monday, March 22, based on information in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) database.
So far in 2021, public-safety spectrum coordinators had submitted less than 8 licensing applications per day to the FCC, but 110 applications were submitted on March 22—83 of which were submitted by Los Angeles County to enhance the regional P25 system that operates on T-Band airwaves.
Business-industrial licensing activity experienced a similar impact. After averaging less than 24 license applications per day being filed during most of 2021, there were 55 business-industrial applications submitted on March 22 and another 114 on March 23. A total of 390 business-industrial license applications submitted were submitted last week, which is a significant increase compared to a typical week in 2021.
It is clear that T-Band applications led to a noticeable increase in licensing activity with the FCC last week, but it should be noted that the above figures include all applications listed in the ULS database and do not just represent T-Band applications.
This current FCC application 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 in February.
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 auctioned for commercial use.
During this time, T-Band licensees were able to make some changes to their systems—for instance, migrating to narrowband-compliant technologies was allowed—but they were not allowed to expand the coverage footprint.
Incumbent T-Band licensees are the only eligible entities that can submit T-Band applications at this stage, and that period will extend into June.
The FCC has not determined when—or if—new licensees will be able to submit licensing applications for the T-Band.
Another significant T-Band question for the FCC to address revolves around narrowbanding, in which LMR network operating below 512 MHz were supposed to migrate their systems from 25 kHz channels to 12.5 kHz channels—or an equivalent—that are more spectrum-efficient.
T-Band licensee were exempted from narrowbanding their LMR systems in 2014, because the FCC did not want them to invest in new equipment that would have be shuttered, if the spectrum were auctioned this year as originally proposed.
Last year, the FCC issued T-Band rules indicating its intention to have T-Band licensees eventually meet the narrowbanding mandate, but it has not yet established a timeline for doing so. This point could prove to be particularly important to the New York Police Department (NYPD), because estimates to upgrade its vast T-Band system have exceeded $150 million.