Narrowbanding FAQ

What is meant by Narrow-banding and how does it apply to me?

On January 1, 2013, all Part 90 public safety and business industrial land mobile radio systems operating in the 150-512 MHz radio bands must cease operating using 25 kHz efficiency technology (that is, conventional FM radio), and begin operating using at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology.

Why is the FCC doing this?

Migration to 12.5 kHz narrowband operation will allow the creation of additional channel capacity within the same radio spectrum, and support more users. This is the result of a multi-year program by the FCC to make 2-way radio operations more efficient.

When is the deadline to be narrow-band compliant?

All 2-way radio systems and 2-way radio users must be using narrowband technology by Dec 31, 2012. All existing Part 90 licenses must be modified to reflect narrowband operation before Dec 31, 2012, and you should be aware that the FCC’s deadline for license modification can be up to 6 weeks in advance of Dec 31 due to the expected amount of last-minute requests and changes.

All new licenses granted in 2012 and beyond must be narrowband compliant and license applications that do not reflect a narrowband emission designator will be rejected.

Do all 2-way radios have to be narrow-band compliant?

Specifically, Part 90 radio operations, including public safety, county government, business, industrial, farming and energy users of 2-way radios operating in the bands 150-174 MHz (VHF) and 450-520 MHz (UHF) must be narrowband compliant by the end of 2012. Any 2-way radio equipment that cannot operate at 12.5 kHz or less bandwidth must be replaced.

What do I need to do besides replace or upgrade my 2-way radio equipment?

In addition to upgrading or replacing your 2-way radio equipment, you must modify your license to be narrowband compliant. This means that in the case of an existing license, you must submit a modification request to change your emission designator to 11K0F3E (narrowband FM designator) at a minimum.

Do I really have to change my license and my equipment to narrowband operation?

Yes, this is not optional, it is a mandatory requirement.

Do I need to purchase a new license?

No, if you have a current Part 90 FCC license, and you don’t need to add any channels or number of authorized devices, you only need to have the license modified for narrowband operation. If you need to add any frequencies, or change or add locations, you may be better off by obtaining a new license, in addition to modifying your existing license.

What does it cost to modify an existing FCC Part 90 license?

There is a nominal fee associated with modifying and existing license, usually about $100-130, depending on the complexity of the change.

Can I modify the license myself?

Yes, you can, although you may prefer to have a frequency coordinator do the actual modification application to hasten the process.

Does the requirement for narrowband modification also include GMRS, FRS and ham radio equipment?

No, the FCC narrowband migration mandate only applies to Part 90 users, not GMRS/FRS (Part 95) or amateur (Part 97) radio users.

How do I know if my radios are compliant?

All new Part 90 radios sold since 1997 are narrowband capable, as required by FCC rules. If your radio was purchased (new) prior to 1997, it is unlikely it is narrowband capable. Any radios sold as “new” by equipment vendors or radio dealers must be narrowband capable, so be sure to check with your dealer that the radios being offered are narrowband capable.

Can’t I just turn down the FM deviation on my transceiver, so the transmitter deviation meets the FCC requirement?

No, this will not work for several reasons. First, interference from other systems will likely occur in your receiver, since the channels adjacent to your system may now be assigned by a frequency coordinator and/or the FCC for use. You have no recourse if you fail to change your equipment if you encounter adjacent channel interference. In addition, the FCC has created many new interoperability channels based on 2.5 kHz channel spacing steps, and most older equipment cannot support frequency steps below 3.75 or even 5.0 kHz spacing.

How do I know that the new radios I am purchasing will be compliant?

Equipment suppliers, vendors and radio dealers are required by law to sell only narrowband compliant products.

I was told that I must buy digital radios to be compliant with the narrowband rules. Is it true that my only option is to buy digital radios?

One common misconception is that the narrowband mandate is a requirement to “go digital.” The FCC’s narrowbanding rules do not dictate that any particular type of equipment modulation be employed. You may continue to operate analog equipment, even after the January 1, 2013 deadline, provided that your equipment meets the FCC’s narrowbanding (12.5 kHz) standards.

My radio dealer said that if I don’t purchase and use digital radios, that I might be fined $10,000 a day, and possibly even be subject to arrest and face jail time, is this true?

Absolutely not. Many dealers realize that the FCC narrowbanding mandate is an opportunity to sell more radios. They might use scare tactics to force you to buy something you don’t need. In fact, in many cases where the dealer is forcing you to buy new equipment, the equipment you have may already be narrowband capable. Work with a radio dealer or 2-way vendor that you know you can trust.

Is there any information about what this all means? Is there any literature that can help me figure out what I need to do?

Yes, please refer to the two links below to download excellent material that explains the narrowband transition rules in detail, and the steps you need to take in order to comply.

What happens if I don’t upgrade my license and replace my non-narrowband equipment?

First, you will have no recourse in the event of interference from new systems that are coordinated in frequency allocations adjacent to your channel. Secondly, the FCC can fine you and, most importantly, revoke your FCC Part 90 license. This means that your cost will increase from modifying your license (about $100-130) to a new frequency coordination, license application, frequency coordinator fees and FCC license fees (about $750). And, if you operate in a crowded metropolitan area, you may be forced to seek a license in a different frequency band, which renders station equipment such as base station antennas, duplexers, filters and power amplifiers obsolete, so it could be a costly mistake to forego the conversion to narrowband operation.

More Information:

Narrowbanding Booklet from the International Association of Firechiefs and the International Municipal Signal Association

How to Modify your FCC License for Narrowband from the FCC