The Federal Communications Commission has granted Sprint Nextel a one-year reprieve to relocate its iDEN mobile customers to new channel assignments on the same 800-MHz frequency band.
The FCC wants to reconfigure its allocation of all communication channels at 800 MHz so commercial wireless services will cause less interference to spectrum slices assigned to firefighters, police, emergency responders, and other public-safety workers. However, the majority of public-safety licensees are not ready to retune their 800-MHz radios from current channels, leaving Sprint Nextel with nowhere to go.
"More than 60 percent of all NPSPAC (National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee) licensees have had to file waiver requests seeking more time to finish retuning their systems," Sprint Nextel noted. "Retuning nearly 1,000 NPSPAC licensees has proven to be more complex than anticipated and continues to challenge the resources of vendors, consultants, engineering companies, and public-safety agencies."
The FCC was also expected to rule against Verizon on Friday after cable companies Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner Cable complained that Verizon used private information to lure back landline customers who planned to switch to VoIP on cable.
Sprint said it would face customer disruptions if it surrendered all of its current channels in "flash-cut" fashion without access to an adequate number of replacement channels in the 800-MHz band. Moreover, moving its customers to alternate channels in the 900-MHz band is not a viable option. "There are not enough 900-MHz channels available to make up for the channel-based capacity shortfall Sprint Nextel will suffer at 800 MHz," the company said.
Additionally, if it vacated all its 800-MHz channels prematurely, Sprint said it would face limitations in its ability to provide service to several public-safety agencies that have already advised the FCC that they rely heavily on Sprint's iDEN network.
"Sprint Nextel needs a sufficient number of 800 MHz channels to serve its nearly 16 million iDEN subscribers," the company said, "including employees of the Department of Homeland Security, members of the United States Secret Service, and police and fire departments across the country."
The 60-Day Rule
Noting that no public-safety licensee has opposed the wireless network operator's request, the FCC agreed that its grant of a waiver to Sprint would not harm public safety. "In light of the large number of NPSPAC licensees that will require additional time to complete their relocation, Sprint does not have the practical ability to eliminate this shortfall through use of the 900-MHz band or construction of additional cell sites," said FCC Associate Bureau Chief David Furth.
As a condition of the waiver, however, Sprint agreed to apply the so-called 60-day rule -- "to relinquish its current channels in the 800-MHz band to any NPSPAC licensee within 60 days of being notified that the licensee is ready to use the channels." Sprint also said it would continue to abide by the FCC's 800-MHz interim interference protection requirements.
"These safeguards have worked well in protecting public-safety licensees against interference during the transition to the new band plan," the company said.
Mike Kent contributed to this article.