T-Band is Alive and, Uh, Well?

About 28% of the US population resides in the 11 major metropolitan areas that still use T-Band for Public Safety communications. So why is it that 6 years after the law was enacted to “give back” or reallocate T-band spectrum to TV Channels 14-20, Public Safety entities are stilling facing challenges on where to relocate to?

Congress passed a law back in 2012 requiring Public Safety entities occupying T-Band to vacate once the auction is complete, which is slated to start Feb. 22, 2021. T-Band is the 470-512MHz spectrum that is used by certain agencies for voice communications. The law stipulates that agencies will have 2 years to vacate once the bidding process is complete in 2023.

This law would affect approximately 925 licensees, and according to some estimates, the cost for this massive relocation effort could approach $6 billion. Proceeds from the 470-512 MHz spectrum auction should help alleviate the financial burden to relocating agencies, or at least in part.

Possibly the most controversial part of the law is the lack of spectrum available for agencies to relocate to, especially in large metro areas such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Consequently, these Public Safety communities are pushing congress for a solution, which may ultimately result in an extension to the deadline, given the uncertainty around FirstNet. In fact, Los Angeles is, along with many other jurisdictions, pushing back on the requirement to give up their T-band license – they do not have sufficient channel availability in either the 450-470 band, nor in their newly deployed 800MHz PS band, to satisfy their need for total available channels.

Initially, the vision for a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), commonly referred to as FirstNet today, was interoperability and broadband data transmission. With LTE Release 13 technology supporting Push-to-Talk communications, some view FirstNet LTE services running on AT&T’s commercial network as suitable spectrum for T-Band licensee relocation.  However, with AT&T plans on making all of its LTE bands available for FirstNet, as in 850MHz, PCS, AWS, & WCS, this commercial network may never reach a level of ‘hardening’ to make it eligible for LMR relocation.  Band 14 (788 MHz – 798 MHz & 758 MHz – 768 MHz) is possibly the only LTE band that may one day qualify for LMR relocation.  

Many from the first responder community would strongly disagree for a myriad of reasons, which unfortunately is outside the scope of this article. The main point here is that it is unlikely that “Mission Critical” Push-to-Talk (MCPTT) over LTE commercial network will replace today’s LMR systems, nor will it qualify as a home for vacating T-Band licensees. While it may be possible for AT&T’s commercial network to wear the “Mission Critical” label, achieving this “Public Safety Grade” distinction won’t come easy, and won’t be cheap.

Suffice it to say that with the difficulties Public Safety entities experience finding available spectrum relocation, and the uncertainty around AT&T/FirstNet’s ability to support MCPTT on a commercial network, congress may have little choice but to grant an extension to the FCC for T-Band spectrum reallocation.  Meanwhile, until that extension is granted, it’s business as usual for T-Band.

Comba’s R&D teams are dedicated to developing best-in-class products for the US Public Safety in-building wireless industry. Stop by the Comba booth #1272 at IWCE 2018 to check out what’s new, but more importantly; come meet the folks that create great solutions for your Public Safety In-building coverage needs. 

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