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- FCC Narrowbanding Mandate

All private two-way radio systems use blocks of radio spectrum, which we usually refer to as "channels".  For many years now, radio systems have typically  used 25 kilohertz (kHz) wide channels (15 kHz wide, in the VHF band).  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that most private two-way radio users operating below 512 megahertz (MHz) change their 'mode' of operation from 'wideband' (25 kHz or 15 kHz channels) to 'narrowband' (12.5 kHz or 7.5 kHz channels).  The radio frequency spectrum is a limited resource and changing to a narrower-bandwidth mode of operation will result in the use of more efficient technology and thus allow more users to use the radio spectrum.

The following information is provided to help you to understand how this federal mandate will affect your radio operation.  It will explain what you may need to do, to be compliant, and what you may not need to do, to be compliant.

First of all, this Federal Mandate applies to any radio system that is licensed by the FCC, that operates on frequencies between 150 - 174 mhz or 450 - 470 mhz, and that is licensed for business/industrial use or public safety use.  Marine radio systems, amateur radio systems, and certain paging-only systems are exempt.  All other FCC-licensed radio users must comply (such as businesses, churches, organizations and associations (profit or non-profit), schools, etc. as well as local, county, and state law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and any other non-Federal government agencies).

Here are the important dates that you'll want to be aware of, if this Federal Mandate applies to you, as outlined above.

Jan 1, 2011

The FCC will no longer license new systems that operate in the wideband mode, after this date.  Also, the FCC will not allow any modifications to existing wideband mode systems, if those changes result in changing the 'coverage area' of the existing system.

For example, increasing the height of the antenna on a repeater or base station, or increasing the transmitter power output would all result in a change in the 'coverage area' of a system.  These modifications can no longer be done on a system that is operating in the wideband mode, unless that system is immediately converted to narrowband mode.  Also, changing the physical location of a repeater or base station may result in a change in the 'coverage area' of a system, and if that is the case, then this can no longer be done on a wideband mode system, either.

Jan. 1, 2013

All two-way radio systems must be operating in the narrowband mode by this date.  There will be no exceptions or 'extensions' of this deadline.  Those who have not converted to narrowband mode may be open to enforcement action by the FCC, which could include warnings, fines, or even loss of licenses.  The FCC has made it very clear that there will be no exceptions made for anyone, for any reasons.

Now, as to wrong information that has been spread around the country, regarding the FCC Narrowband Mandate, the following should clear up the two most common ones.

1.  Narrowbanding means that you'll have to switch to digital.

Not true.  At this point, the FCC is only requiring that radios use a narrower 'bandwidth'.  This can be accomplished using narrowband analog FM.  Digital is NOT required.  However, switching to narrowband mode may result in a decrease in the coverage area of your existing radio system.  Some digital modes of operation will overcome this reduction in range when changing from wideband mode to narrowband mode.  If this is of concern (a loss of range on your radio system), then please let us know and we'll discuss this issue further.

2.  Narrowbanding means that you'll have to change frequencies.

Not true.  The frequencies on which you currently operate will not change.  Only the 'bandwidth' of your radios must change.  For radios that can operate in a narrowband 'mode', this only requires that the radio be reprogrammed for 'narrowband operation'.

3.  I can have my old wideband radios 'modified' by a radio shop to operate on narrowband.

Not true.  Actually, this should be answered as "Not True, in most cases".  The FCC has made it very clear that a radio that has been modified 'in the field' (such as by a local radio shop) to 'convert' it to narrowband mode, can't legally be used unless it receives a new Type Certification from the FCC.  This involves having the radio tested by an approved engineering laboratory, to make sure that it complies with current FCC rules, and then the FCC will issue a new Type Cerfication number that must be attached (on a label) to the radio.  This entire procedure can be very expensive (on the order of thousands of dollars), so it's much more cost-effective to replace old wideband-only radios.

What Needs to Be Done

In order to comply with the new FCC rules, your radios will either have to be reprogrammed for narrowband mode (if that is possible), or replaced with radios that can operate in the narrowband mode.  Your FCC license will also need to be changed, to include the narrowband mode of operation.  This can easily be added.  (It should be added to the license, leaving the existing wideband mode information also on the license.  The wideband information will be removed sometime after Jan. 1, 2013).  Normally, there is an FCC fee of $60 for a modification of a business radio license (there is no FCC fee for public-safety license modifications).  However, for this 'narrowband modification', there is no FCC fee.  Some frequency coordinators, as well as license preparation companies, will charge a fee for their services.  These fees can run anywhere from $25 to over $200, depending upon the coordinator or the company doing the work.

If you have any questions about this FCC mandate, please don't hesitate to call us.  We'll be happy to help with your FCC licensing needs and if any of your equipment needs to be replaced, we would appreciate the opportunity to provide a quote for new equipment.

More Information on the FCC Narrowbanding Mandate:

A Practical Guide to Narrowbanding
- from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Narrowbanding Overview
Narrowbanding Fact Sheet
Narrowbanding FAQ

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