by Kristofer Maki
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 11:00 AM MDT
With great patience comes great reward. And with all the waiting that Sprint customers in South Florida have been doing lately, many are wishing it will pay off in spades, and soon. Indeed, I am referring to the 800MHz spectrum embargo that is still occurring in South Florida today.
If you aren’t aware of the background of the issue, fret not, I will cover the background in detail so you are aware of what it entails. By the end of this article, my goal is to hope you understand a bit more about the current impasse with the ability to release B26 LTE (LTE 800) in South Florida, as well as give you an idea on when the blockade will eventually be lifted.
It all started back in 2004, when the FCC adopted a resolution to completely reorganize the 800MHz SMR band. The FCC was quoted in saying that the plan was to, “Migrate Incompatible Technologies to separate segments of the band.”  The purpose of the reorganization was to alleviate interference with public safety agencies within the Sprint-Nextel coverage areas. The final plan ended up placing the public safety agencies within the 806-815/851-860MHz range and Sprint Nextel within the 817-824/862-869 MHz range. In between the ranges is an Expansion Band of 1MHz (for future use of Public Safety Agencies as need grows) and a Guard Band of 1MHz (To place a buffer in between two-way/trunked and cellular frequencies). For a visual of the band see the image below.
The original plan also provided a three year time frame for the changes to take effect. The plan was slated to start on June 27, 2005 and finish by June 26, 2008. Sprint was also obligated to pay for any reasonable costs associated with the transition of any license holder within the 800MHz band that was relocating to a new frequency. Finally the plan provided the creation of an independent agency to oversee all financial and technical specifics of the transition between the licensees, Sprint, and the FCC. This agency is called the 800MHz Transition Administrator.
But wait, it’s October 2014! Wasn’t this all supposed to be completed by the end of June 2008? What gives?
FCC Extends Rebanding beyond initial 3 years
The short and sweet answer to that question is the FCC realized that the initial time frame wasn’t long enough to deploy the complicated communications systems, so the FCC ordered a process for filing waivers (Extensions to exceed the initial deadline).
I requested comment from Miami-Dade County on the issue and they stated, “The first waiver extension was ordered by the FCC across all agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico since it became obvious that the deadline was not realistic.”
Many agencies have applied to extend their deadlines, so many in fact that the Transition Administrator had set up a section of their web site dedicated to waiver requests. Some of the reasons that deadlines were extended were due to issues with obtaining costs estimates, finding compatible hardware, and even some agencies just not sure with what hardware they were wanting to transition to.
The additional delays with Miami-Dade County
Now let’s consider the issue in particular of Miami-Dade County and all of South Florida. I was interested in their side of the story. I wanted to know more about what issues may have risen from the deployment process, and if there were any other issues initially foreseen that would cause a delay with the deployment to the new communications systems. So I took to my email. I sent requests out for comment from both sides of the spectrum. I contacted Sprint and Miami-Dade County on the issues and received quite the plethora of information.
In an email interview, I asked Miami-Dade County for comment on the issues that have implicated the deployments of their transitioning to the new 800MHz frequencies.
“Miami Dade County has the largest and busiest public safety radio system in the entire State of Florida. With more than 90 million transmissions a year being generated by over 30,000 subscriber radios and with over 100 local, state, and federal agencies operating on the network, the planning and deployment process to install equipment at 11 radio sites and physically touch 30,000 subscriber radios with their own independent radio personalities, is critical and complex in nature.” States Rey Valdez, Major with the Communications Bureau of Miami Dade Police Department.
He continues to comment, “The first of two large 800 MHz systems was deployed within schedule and budget December, 2012. The second large system services law enforcement primarily was scheduled to be deployed by April 2014. The County encountered issues with the factory code of the radios and dispatch consoles that required to have more than 16,000 radios on the law enforcement system retouched. As a result, the logistical process to coordinate with thousands of radio users had to be repeated for the entire base and in some cases, small pockets of radio users had to be retouched a third time.”
In the most recent waiver request, Miami-Dade County requested until January 21, 2015 to complete the migration to the new frequencies. Sprint “Partially” opposed the extension, stating that the licensee has had since 2005 to complete its requirements. They requested that Miami-Dade relinquish all of the frequencies by October 2014. The FCC held in abeyance the request, pending additional information from Miami-Dade County. There was no other data provided on the FCC’s website stating what information was found, or if the waiver date was even granted. After doing some more searching around, I found on the Transition Administrators site that Miami-Dade County was granted the waiver date of January 21, 2015.
I asked if they had any pending issues that would withhold the agency being able to meet the deadline and Major Rey Valdez stated, “Miami-Dade County has successfully migrated 40% of all the users in the law enforcement system as of September 30, 2014 with the rest of the users migrating over incrementally before January 21, 2015.” He continued to explain that, “Barring a natural disaster such as the landfall of a major hurricane, we do not foresee any other issue that would prevent us from meeting out commitment with the waiver request for January 21, 2015.”
This is great news that hopefully we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! When asking Sprint for comment, they declined until an official news release was given on the issue. No date or timeframe was given.
So here’s to hoping that South Florida has another quiet year for tropical weather activity so Miami-Dade may peacefully and prudently finish their radio re-banding. Considering the size and scope of the project, it is more than understandable that having to touch over 30,000 subscriber units can take time and burn through resources.
Just a few more months, with an eye to the sky
We are hoping that we should be able to see B26 LTE (800MHz LTE) sometime around the beginning of next year here around South Florida. It does, in fact, affect a large area of South Florida, from the Florida Keys, all the way up to about 30 Miles north of Okeechobee, FL. Covering about an 80 mile radius around the perimeter of Miami-Dade County. It’s easy to guess which areas are affected by the, “Frequency Embargo” by checking out the B26 Sites Accepted Map & Discussion in the S4GRU Premier Sponsors Thread.
You can read more about the 800Mhz Transition by visiting http://www.800ta.org. Special thanks to the Miami-Dade Police Department-Communications Division for their comments on the issue.