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T Band and the Fire Service

Change is coming to T band, so agencies need to plan for interoperability when there’s a mixture of narrow and wide channel spacing use in their areas. Budgets need to be established and plans made to migrate in nine years.

Now is the time to start considering these issues and engage consultants and vendors, so you won’t be caught short.

What T Band Is and Why It Matters to the Fire Service

T band is in the UHF spectrum, 470-512 MHz, directly above the more commonly used UHF spectrum of 450-470 MHz. Originally, the T band was used for TV channels 14 to 20, but because of channel congestion in the mid-1970s it was allocated to 11 major urban areas:

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New York/Northern N.J.
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • San Francisco/Oakland
  • Washington D.C. metropolitan area

The usage in this band is significant. A filing by both APCO and NPSTC in January 2010 said there were over 2,800 public-safety licenses in T band.

FDNY, the largest fire department in the U.S., uses T band. Usage was also allowed within a 50-mile radius of the center of these urban areas, so many suburban fire departments are also on T band.

Broadband D Block Impact

Title VI of the Spectrum Act, signed into law on February 2, allocates the D Block at 700 MHz to a future Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, with $7 billion in funding.

However, a provision requires the FCC to auction T band public-safety channels and to relocate those licensees within 11 years. Auction proceeds will help relocation costs.

Therefore, all public safety T band users must make plans to vacate this spectrum. (Note: the bill didn’t mention business and industrial users on T band, which is believed to be an oversight.)

Narrowbanding Issue

The FCC previously mandated that users in radio frequencies between 150 to 512 MHz must narrow their channel usage from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz channels by 1 January 2013.

However, on April 26 the FCC ruled (PDF) that T band systems are now exempt from the narrowbanding deadline. This means T band users don’t have to narrowband.

The FCC also ruled (PDF) that they were suspending any actions on new or expanded use of T band. This means that if you’re planning to expand your use of T band, it may not be approved.

Potential Interoperability Problems

T band users in the same region may have interoperability problems crop up because some agencies will have narrowbanded already and others that haven’t done so may elect to remain at 25 kHz.
Thus, at a mutual-aid incident, some users may be on narrow channels, others on wide channels.

John Facella is a member of the IAFC Communications Committee. He is currently a senior vice president with RCC Consultants Inc. and has 25 years of experience as a firefighter/EMT in four states. One of the fire departments he is a member of uses a T band system in the Boston area.

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