U.S. Narrowband Transition - Less than a year to go!

By Chris Termini in Washington, DC

There have been several recent developments concerning the VHF narrowband transition mandated by the FCC.  On January 5, 2012, the Commission issued a release reminding the public that less than one year remains before land mobile radio licensees in the 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz bands must migrate to narrowband technology.  The public notice follows from a similar reminder the FCC issued to the public on July 13, 2011 that included guidance on how licensees can file requests for waiver from the narrowband rules.

Additionally, on January 27, 2012, the Commission released a public notice seeking comment on petitions filed by 21 different entities all seeking waiver from the narrowband requirements.  The FCC has posted each petition on its website in WT Docket 99-87.  Comments are due on February 10, 2012, and reply comments will be due on February 17, 2012.  Previously, the Commission has sought public comment on narrowband waiver requests in two instances.

The narrowband transition is part of the FCC’s effort to encourage the land mobile radio (LMR) systems using VHF/UHF spectrum to operate with modern technology.  Prior to the narrowband mandate, most VHF/UHF LMR licensees operated with 25 kHz technology.  To reduce the congestion in these frequency bands and facilitate LMR system expansion and implementation, the FCC implemented rules that require licensees to use narrower channel bandwidths or to increase voice paths on existing channels. 

By January 1, 2013, all licensees in the VHF/UHF Industrial/Business and Public Safety Pools must operate on 12.5 kHz or narrower channels.  Alternatively, licensees may employ a technology that achieves the narrowband equivalent of at least one channel per 12.5 kHz of channel bandwidth for voice and transmission rates of at least 4.8 kbps per 6.25 kHz (such as 19.2 kbps per 25 kHz channel) for data systems operating with bandwidths greater than 12.5 kHz.  Also by this deadline, equipment manufacturers will no longer be permitted to manufacture or import previously certified equipment that includes a 25 kHz mode. 

After January 1, 2013, licensees that fail to operate with narrowband (or narrowband-equivalent) technology may be subject to an FCC enforcement action, which may result in monetary fines or loss of license.  The FCC will accept waiver requests from licensees that require additional time for compliance, although the Commission has stated that such requests will be subject to a “high level of scrutiny.” 

Additional information concerning the narrowband transition is available online at www.fcc.gov/narrowbanding.