By January 1, 2013, all radios operating below 512 MHz. will be required to move to narrow-band operation. This impacts all Public Safety service radio systems not already on narrow band channels. It is not too late to begin planning and budgeting for this, as it will require changing out your radios for ones that are capable of narrow band operation.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), reacting to the crowding of the radio spectrum, studied various methods to help alleviate the over-crowding on the radio bands. With the increase of personal communications devices – from baby monitors to cell phones – there had been a veritable explosion of use of radio frequencies. The FCC came up with the plan of “splitting” each current wide-band 25 kHz channel into two 12.5 kHz channels. Thus, we have more radio spectrum for use, but everyone has to buy new equipment if their current radios cannot use narrow-band frequencies.
Radio licenses will need to be re-licensed for narrow-band frequencies, and agencies will not be able to “grandfather” their use of wide-band channels. If you don’t re-license, you will probably loose your frequency to someone else and incur additional expense in re-programming all your radio gear to the new narrow-band frequency allocated to you by the FCC.
In planning/budgeting for this, you should consider radio equipment that can use your current wide-band channels and be programmed for the new narrow-band use when you get re-licensed. That way, you can stagger your purchases and not have new radios sitting in the closet waiting for the new license and change-over to the narrow-band frequency.
All agencies will not be moving at the same time, and the new inter-operable UHF/VHF frequencies will co-exist with the old wide-band channels until 1-1-2013.
What we recommend is to program your new radios with both the “old” wide-band FERN, NLEEC, HEAR, and SAR channels in one bank or group on the radio, and then program in the “new” narrow-band inter-operable channels VLAW, VFIRE, VTAC, etc., into another bank or group. Hopefully, your new radios will have a display of a channel name and not just a channel number. That way, when someone says “Go to FERN 1” you just go to the display for “FERN 1”. If the channel to be used is “VFIRE 21”, just go to where it displays “VFIRE 21”. That way there is no confusion of whether the channel to be used is wide or narrow-band.
The “old” names – FERN, NLEEC, HEAR, etc. – will not be used when the new narrow-band channels are used. Instead, we will use the new National Public Safety Telecommunications Council channel naming convention – VCALL 10, VTAC 11-14, VFIRE 21-26, VLAW 31-32, VMED 28-29 etc.
For more information on the VHF/UHF narrow-band requirements contact Jack Cobb, DEM Communications Manager, at Jack.Cobb@state.co.us.
Download a copy this VHF/UHF Narrow-Band Requirements article.