Are Your Campus 2-Way Radios Up to Date?

Campuses that aren’t narrowbanding compliant could find themselves without a license or functioning radios.

At the opening of 2013, two-way radio users across the country were required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make the switch to at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology in order to operate within the commission’s new technical parameters, a transition called narrowbanding. But, as of eight months ago, 10-15% of users were still in possession of a non-compliant license.

According to Enterprise Wireless Alliance President and CEO Mark Crosby, those non-compliant users could soon find themselves without a license or without functioning radios. In March, the FCC issued a public notice stating that it will not renew licenses that list outdated radio equipment. 

“They’re not going to spend the money to go after the 10% to 15%,” Crosby explains. “They are going to catch up with the renewal process. Eventually no licenses will be issued with a noncompliant emission designator, so it’s just a matter of time.”

FCC Is Holding the Line

Initially, experts thought the FCC was going to go after radio users who didn’t make the switch by issuing fines or revoking licenses. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, the commission has made clear that licenses containing wideband emissions designators will not be renewed, even if that license also includes a narrowband emissions designator. This policy went into effect on April 1 of this year (for more information, view Renewing Your FCC Radio License).

Crosby worries that the number of users who have not complied with narrowbanding may be higher than expected.

“What I fear is that there are just as many people that changed their license to show narrowband compliance but never changed their system,” he says. The bad news for those users is that narrowbanding will cause interference on old systems, rendering them useless.

“Eventually, they aren’t going to have a leg to stand on,” Crosby adds. “However, we also know that it’s possible that a lot of hospitals or campuses had their systems fixed for narrowbanding, but they never changed their license.”

RELATED: Get Your 2-Way Radios Ready

Re-Examine Your Systems Now

While narrowbanding might seem like a hassle for large institutions like universities and hospitals, Crosby argues that the change has actually provided a great opportunity for security departments to reexamine their two-way radio systems. Prior to narrowbanding, VHF and UHF frequency bands were impacted by a disproportionate user-to-frequency ratio, making it difficult for users to expand their systems or implement new ones due to lack of space.

Now, radio users are required to operate one voice path on a 12.5 kHz channel or two voice paths on a 25 kHz channel. Or, they can opt to operate in a 6.25 kHz efficiency mode if they wish to go beyond the agency’s requirements.

“Narrowbanding was good for this industry. It was good for everybody,” Crosby says.

Besides freeing up space for more systems, the narrowbanding requirements have also led manufacturers to develop better, more affordable technology. According to Crosby, the FCC is not likely to mandate the switch to digital two-way radios, but he does believe the market will drive that change.

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