Industry Should Push Washington on T-Band
Monday, March 28, 2016 | Comments
After hearing several industry insiders recently discuss the UHF T-band relocation legislation, I am convinced this is an issue our industry must address shortly after November’s elections.

You may remember that the 2012 legislation that created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) also mandated that by 2021 the FCC must auction the UHF T-band spectrum. Public-safety agencies and business/industry (B/I) licensees use this spectrum in 11 markets in the United States.

The FCC in 2012 froze the band because the bill directed it to auction the T-band spectrum. The law dictates that relocation of public-safety entities from the T-band spectrum shall be completed within two years after the auction, so by 2023. The legislation does not address B/I relocation efforts.

The act also said that auction revenue should pay to relocate the T-band public-safety licensees to other spectrum. Despite being a requirement of the act, auction revenues may not be high enough to cover the costs for public-safety license relocation, estimated to exceed $5.9 billion in a 2013 National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) report. Additionally, auction proceeds do not consider private sector relocation costs, estimated at $450 million by the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), which may decrease the percentage of auction funding.

Licensees in this band are questioning how and if to move forward with LMR networks. Some industry insiders are telling the licenses to wait it out, and they might get a new system if the spectrum is auctioned, because the auction winner would likely be required to pay to move the incumbents to new spectrum.

However, where will the incumbents go? As we all know, there is little to no vacant spectrum to house public-safety and B/I licensees. Also, what if your system is end of life? You need to upgrade, but does it make sense to deploy a new system in spectrum with so many unknowns?

Both the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable System (LA-RICS) and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) have new radio projects affected by the T-band law. LA-RICS is moving forward with a new Project 25 (P25) hybrid spectrum system that includes 700 MHz narrowband channels and UHF T-band spectrum. In 2012, LA-RICS said in an FCC filing that it “has not been able to identify a viable alternative to the T-band for LA-RICS.”

The FCC in 2014 prioritized 24 channels of the 700 MHz reserve spectrum for T-band relocation. “We looked at the 700/800 MHz available channels, and there is no way with every single channel, it came close to 600 UHF channels,” said LA-RICS Executive Director Pat Mallon last week.

SFMTA received a waiver from the FCC to extend until March 31, 2017, the construction deadline associated with 700 MHz narrowband public-safety license WQMJ646, which will be integrated into SFMTA’s radio system replacement program (RSRP). The RSRP will replace SFMTA’s existing T-band system.

Losing the T-band spectrum will have harsh effects on interoperability with surrounding counties in the 11 markets as well. Further complicating any auction of the spectrum are TV and low-power TV (LPTV) deployments on T-band channels. What will happen to the TV channels operating in the T-band, and how would they impact a nationwide auction?

At press time, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) was finalizing an updated report on the topic. In addition, Safecom is expected to soon release an executive briefing on T-band.

The industry, both public safety and B/I, needs to collectively roll out a plan to address the T-band spectrum. Not much will happen in Washington before the November elections, but 2017 should be the year that the industry hammers Washington on this topic.

Using the resources the industry has put together, including information from NPSTC, Safecom, EWA and others, industry needs to unify and push Washington to do the right thing for T-band licensees. The topic has come up in congressional hearings; start with the legislators in the 11 T-band markets and explain how it affects the safety of their constituents. The mission-critical industry has a strong voice when unified, so it should capitalize on that voice to help T-band licensees get out of limbo.

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Sandra Wendelken is editor of MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International magazines. Contact her at swendelken@RRMediaGroup.com.

 
 
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Comments
On 3/31/16, JOHN said:
I find it amazing at yet another attempt to push us to interop trunking systems. First it was narrowbanding which was NEVER necessary and later the 470 T-band. I have been a policeman, and trunking is a huge step backwards for safety. I can no longer scan listen to my surrounding agencies while monitoring the main operating channel on the trunked. Isn't it amazing that neither the feds nor the military would even consider being stuck on these. However, I do see the feds funding this so they can control us by way of the IP stream. In a local serious event, trunking is a huge disadvantage because it doesn't take long to get system busies and the fact that you lose control of your teams when they move off the main channels because of command's inability to monitor the event. But there again the snake-oil salesforce will brag about how you can talk across the state. What in the heck do I need that for if I can't communicate with my teams in the local area. I believe they invented cellphones for that. What a national shame.

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