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What is narrowband?

Published February 11. 2011 05:00PM

The Federal Communications Commission set a mandate that as of Jan. 1, 2013, all emergency radio equipment must be narrowband frequency capable or municipalities could face major penalties, such as fines or loss of their license. But what is the transition that will cost the country millions of dollars to comply with?

According to the FCC website, "Narrowbanding is an effort to ensure more efficient use of the VHF and UHF spectrum by requiring all VHF and UHF Public Safety and Industrial/Business land mobile radio (LMR) systems to migrate to at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology by Jan. 1, 2013. More specifically, all existing Part 90 radio systems operating in the 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz bands have until Jan. 1, 2013 to convert those systems either to a maximum bandwidth of 12.5 kHz or to a technology that provides at least one voice path per 12.5 kHz of bandwidth or equivalent efficiency."

This means that all current radios must be able to pick up a smaller radio frequency.

The reason behind the mandate, which was created in 2004, is because there are not enough radio frequencies to handle all of the emergency traffic anymore.

Municipalities have grown in recent years and the growth has caused more emergency situations to occur. This, in turn, causes more emergency personnel traffic on the radio frequencies currently in place.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, who is an emergency responder in Carbon County, explained that Carbon has seen a few problems in recent years with not having enough radio frequencies during emergency situations. This happens when there are numerous emergencies, such as fires, occurring in the county at once.

He noted that some larger counties have been experiencing these problems more often and that narrowbanding will resolve that issue by creating more usable frequencies.

So what does that mean for equipment?

In the overall picture, municipalities may have two options, pending on the type and age of its emergency communications equipment.

If a municipality's equipment is circa 2000 or before, it will need to replaced. This will cost thousands of dollars because each emergency organization police, fire, ambulance as well as public works departments will need new radios, pagers, mobiles and anything that uses radio frequencies.

If a municipality's equipment is circa 2000 or later, it may mean simply reprogramming the equipment. This will cost significantly less because reprogramming one piece of equipment is less than purchasing a new one.

But don't be fooled, not all equipment that was made between 2000 and 2010 is narrowband capable. Certain models can be reprogrammed but not all models. Models that cannot be reprogrammed must be replaced.

For complete information on narrowbanding, visit:

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