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FCC Narrowbanding Rules and You

Narrowbanding, you've seen the term bandied about the Net, perhaps glazed over notices in trade magazines and probably heard a bit of grumbling about it in business circles. So what *is* narrowbanding? And what will it mean to your business?

Well, for one, it's not an option.

In broad strokes, narrowbanding is the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) mandate that all two-way radio systems in the Public Safety and Business/Industrial pool that fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC's Part 90 rules, must switch from widebandwidth (25KHz) to narrowbandwidth (12.5KHz) sized channels or their equivalent efficiency by the Stroke of Midnight on January 1, 2013 unless licensees have a pre-approved waiver. (January 1, 2012, was the date by which the FCC asked that licensees make their waiver requests). In addition to reprogramming your two-way radios, you must also change your FCC license to reflect your new narrowbandwidth channels and correct emission designators.

So, that's the basic gist on FCC narrowbanding rules. Now, let's get down in it.

Re-programming Your Business Radios

All existing Part 90 governed radio systems operating voice or data/SCADA in the VHF 150 - 174 MHz and UHF 432 - 512 MHz bands must convert those systems to a maximum bandwidth of 12.5KHz per channel or use a technology that provides at least one voice path per 12.5KHz of bandwidth or equivalent efficiency.

That's a key term. Let's look at "equivalent efficiency" specifically.

Any of these configurations satisfy the FCC's conditions for "equivalent efficiency":

  • One voice path in a 12.5KHz channel
  • Two voice paths in a 25KHz channel
  • Data operations on channels wider than 12.5KHz must deploy data rates higher than 4.8kbps per 6.25KHz channel, 9.6kbps per 12.5KHz, 19.2kbps on a 25KHz channel.

Exceptions to the FCC narrowbanding rules are narrow (heh) and few.

Exceptions include licensees who've obtained an FCC pre-approved waiver and some paging only frequencies.

14 paging only frequencies in the continental US are subject to the FCC narrowbanding rules exception clause:

  • Public Safety Pool: 152.0075 and 157.4500 MHz.
  • Business/Industrial Land Mobile Radio (LMR) Pool: 152.480, 157.740, 158.460, 462.750, 462.775, 462.800, 462.825, 462.850, 462.875, 462.900, 462.925, 465.000 MHz.

Outside the continental US, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have 5 extra paging frequencies in the VHF Business/Industrial Pool that are also subject to the paging only frequencies excluded in the FCC's narrowbanding rules: 150.83, 150.92, 151.07, 151.19, 151.31

That's it.

Note! The FCC narrowbanding mandate does not include MURS, FRS or GMRS as they fall under Part 95 of the FCC rules. Nor does it apply to VHF low band (30-50HMz), Marine VHF, Amateur, 700, 800, or 900 MHz systems (DTR) or CB systems.

Nor is it mandatory for two-way radio systems users to migrate to digital, "Licensees can operate in either analog or digital formats as long as they operate at 12.5 kHz efficiency."

Truth or Consequences

Everyone else running public safety or industrial/business pool two-way radios set to frequencies between 150 - 174 MHz and 421 - 512 MHz under the auspices of Part 90 must comply or set yourself up to face steep consequences.

And what might those be? You may ask.

Straight up: You're prohibited by law from using your radios on 25KHz wide channels after January 1, 2013. That means you're subject to "FCC enforcement action that may include admonishment, monetary fines or loss of license".

You don't want to mess with that. The FCC says that cancelled licenses will be very difficult to re-obtain. Nor, will waivers to stay on the 25KHz channels be easily granted after the deadline. They're not kidding. In fact, they've got a counter on the FCC site that's counting down to the very last second of December 31, 2012!

License or Lose It

Also, someone else could jump in and claim your spot on the radio spectrum. Yes, the reason for the narrowbanding shift is to use the spectrum more efficiently and accommodate more users, but you're not guaranteed your system's programmed frequencies unless you re-license them fair and square. So, you've got to get in the game and apply for them. Losing your frequency designations could cost you a lot in hidden costs like time spent on internal processes, re-documenting, re-training and re-programming your radios. That would be your ROI taking a nosedive; in addition to any financial spankings you might incur from the FCC for using your radios on illegally wide channels.

Furthermore, you're not guaranteed two channels within your previously allotted 25KHz bandwidth. If you want two channels in your old frequency/bandwidth allotment, you will have to justify a need with the FCC via their licensing procedures.

The good news, yes there is some, is the FCC is not charging additional fees for narrowbanding oriented adjustments to your FCC two-way radio licenses. Nor is the FCC requiring additional frequency coordination to make the narrowbanding license changes.


  • Coordination and fees are not required for an application that replaces a wideband emission designator with a narrowband emission designator.
  • Coordination and fees are not required for an application that deletes a wideband emission designator from a license that has both a wideband and a narrowband emission designator.
  • Coordination and fees are not required for an application that adds a narrowband emission designator to a license that only has a wideband emission designator provided that the new narrowband emission designator is of the same type as the old wideband emission designator. Ex. 20k0F3E to 11k0F3E will not require additional fees or coordination, but 20k0F3E to 11k0F1E would.

That's the legal and the licensing. The rest of reality in radioland will likely result in a big interference clustermuck, if you don't narrow down to a mandated and licensed narrowband channel when it comes time. It's important to understand why.

How and Why

Right now, your frequency lies at the center of a 25KHz bandwidth channel. Under the conditions of widebandwidth licensing, you're permitted to go 12.5KHz above and 12.5KHz below (that's your 25KHz) your midpoint licensed frequency. After the FCC narrowbanding rules take effect, your frequency will stay in the center of a 12.5KHz channel at the frequency number that's indicated on your license, and you'll only be allowed to go 6.25KHz up or below your midpoint licensed frequency (equals 12.5KHz). The next licensee in your immediate area will be granted a frequency designation at the midpoint of the adjacent 12.5KHz channel. (Actually, the frequency bandwidth for VHF is currently higher at 30KHz per channel, but the same basic even split channel principles apply [with a few caveats as to how they're organized, but we won't go into that here to keep it simple]).

In effect, narrowbanding will double the number of available channels and open things up for more efficient technologies and more users in a crowded and finite spectrum. Ya know, same pie, more pieces to go around.

However, if at 12:01am on January 1, 2013, you're still hogging up 12.5KHz on one side or the other of your assigned frequency, you're likely to be stepping on someone else's transmission and vice versa. The result will be loss of communication and interference for both of you and no one's going to be happy. You'll be the one in legal trouble.

Are Your Two-Way Radios Narrowband Capable?

If you bought your 2-way radio systems in 1997 or after, the answer is very likely, yes. All of's current Part 90 two-way radios are narrowband capable. Our RDX, CLPe, and CLS walkie-talkies will all glide into the January 1, 2013 narrowbanding deadline without a glitch. DTR radios are unaffected by the narrowbanding mandate because DTR radios operate in the 900MHz band that is not included in the 2013 narrowbanding mandate.

At we stay on top of what's new in two-way radio tech, so our customers do too. As always, if you need assistance with programming or re-programming your two-way radios please don't hesitate to give us a call or shoot us an email. We're here to help ensure your smooth transition. If you need to replace or want help reprogramming, we do suggest that you make your two-way radio purchases and programming requests sooner rather than later to avoid a possible pre-narrowbanding deadline panic rush.

The FCC has been looking at narrowbanding since about 1992, when they were calling it "re-farming". In 1995, they finalized and approved the rules for re-farming. Come Valentine's Day 1997, the FCC sent a love letter to Land Mobile Radio manufacturers requiring that all radio equipment operating on 25KHz channels must also be 12.5KHz capable to meet certification criteria. So that's why you can be reasonably secure that your two-way radios purchased since 1997 are narrowband capable.

Exceptions by Motorola you may still have in service, but are Not Narrowbanding Capable include models:



Base Stations and Repeaters









Mocom 70


























Spectra Conventional






Some of the older versions of the HT1000 and VISAR handheld radios are programmable for narrowband on frequencies/channels currently in use only. If the FCC adds more narrowband frequencies/channels, those radio models might not be narrowband compatible on the new frequencies/channels.

Very Narrowband, Rumors? 6.25KHz? When?

Say what? Will we have to do this again? It looks like it, but the FCC hasn't set anything in stone, yet. Just as they waited for 2-way radio technology to stabilize and deliver strong signals on the 12.5KHz channels, the FCC is waiting for two-way radio technology to mature enough to deliver solid communications on the very narrowbandwidth of 6.25KHz. Put another way: There is No Date Set for an FCC mandated 6.25KHz channel conversion.

The FCC has put manufacturers on notice, however. All Part 90 UHF and VHF radios will need to be 6.25KHz narrowband capable by January 1, 2013.

Out With the Old, In With the New

As of January 1 2011, the FCC stopped accepting new license applications for radio systems operating on 25KHz channels. Jan. 1, 2011, also saw the end of applications for radio systems seeking to modify or expand the authorized contour of a UHF or VHF 25KHz system.

For two-way radio equipment manufacturers, no new types of Part 90 UHF/VHF radio equipment that is capable of operating on 25HKz channels were or will be certified by the FCC after January 1, 2011.

All previously certified Part 90 UHF/VHF radio equipment that is 25KHz capable must include a method of disabling the 25KHz channel via restricted-use software. Such radio equipment may continue to be manufactured and imported until January 1, 2013, in so far as it meets the conditions of A) Previous certification and B) Includes a method to disable the 25KHz channel capability.

The FCC wanted to ensure there was plenty of Part 90 UHF/VHF equipment working and available during the transition, but did not see it as "in the public interest" to expand marketplace availability of 25KHz channel capability beyond that which was already existing.

7 Steps to Stepping Down From 25KHz to 12.5KHz in the Context of Your Business

  1. Check that your company or organization has a current, valid FCC Part 90 radio equipment license. It is illegal to operate any Part 90 radio system without one.

  2. Do a thorough inventory of all the business radio equipment you use. Don't forget to include all of your handheld 2-way radios; mobile (in-vehicle) and dispatch radios; all RF link, paging receivers and transmitters; all wireless data or SCADA radios and any on or off-site base stations or repeaters.

    It's a good idea to create a spreadsheet (for ease in updating) that includes specific makes and model numbers of all the business radios in your radio system. Even better, add and track their serial numbers. You might look at it as a sort of bonus opportunity to gather a full account of your business radio equipment; take stock of what works and what doesn't and see how you can tighten your business processes and increase your ROI.

  3. A professional, two-way radio systems vendor can assist you in ascertaining which radio models are narrowband capable and which aren't. We've got it down to a science here at We deliver the answers you need - fast.

    Again, radio equipment manufactured after 1997, should be narrowband capable. Radios purchased before the FCC changes in 1997, may not be. If your radio can't be re-programmed to the 12.5KHz narrowband specs or equivalent efficiencies then you'll need to replace that radio in your system. At we always offer wholesale prices to the public with free shipping.

  4. ASAP, begin budgeting for and buying any new narrowband capable business radio equipment your inventory reveals necessary. You don't want to run afoul of a rush on radio equipment as the FCC narrowbanding deadline looms.

    It may be tempting to go ahead and 'git 'er done' and have your new equipment programmed for narrowband operation in advance of the deadline, but don't do it just yet. When possible continue to operate in the "wideband" mode until time for the actual switch from wide to narrow bandwidth channels.

    Also, we don't recommend operating in a "mixed mode": operating both "wideband" and "narrowband" radios on the same frequency in the same system. This is especially true with data or SCADA systems.

Before you jump into it. Develop your plan for stepping down to the 12.5KHz narrowband specs that takes into consideration factors like potential decreases along the outer fringes of your coverage area, if you're using analogue radios. If you operate your analogue business radios on-site at your business, you probably know your coverage area like the back of your hand and have worked out the kinks and deadspots using repeaters and base stations. You'll want to look ahead to moving or procuring and installing base stations or repeaters as needed.

You'll also want to come up with a highly coordinated plan to reprogram all of your business radio systems as close to simultaneously as possible to minimize downtime. In other words: Synchronize Your Watches.

  • Make sure everyone knows what's happening when! Notify all of your internal two-way radio system users when the conversion is going down in advance. Be sure to include authorized external, interoperational users like contractors and service vendors. Get everyone on the same page.

  • Last, but not least by far: Apply for new licenses and channels as you need them and/or modify your existing radio licenses to remove any "wideband" emission designators and replace them with your new "narrowband" emission designators.

While you're at it, why not make this an opportunity to clean house and ensure that all of your FCC licenses reflect reality. Re-doing your FCC license as part of the FCC narrowbanding mandate makes for a good time to update contact names, physical and email addresses, and telephone numbers; as well as tweak major technology details that have may changed since your last application. Engaging the services of a professional FCC licensing services business or an FCC certified frequency coordinator would take a considerable weight off of your shoulders.

As always, we at are here to serve you. We can help you determine which business radios in your system you can simply reprogram and which 2-way radios you'll need to replace. We've been programming and reprogramming radios since our inception in 1997, and we'd be glad to help you get your radios sorted. We can help you develop your conversion plan and we're here to answer all of your FCC narrowbanding mandate questions. Customer service takes top priority at, via email or telephone, let us know how we can help your business navigate the new narrowbandwith transition.