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Published October 29, 2012, 10:01 AM

Time for narrowbanding?

Many people who use two-way radios need to update their equipment and license by year’s end.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Many people who use two-way radios need to update their equipment and license by year’s end.

On Jan. 1, the Federal Communications Commission will implement its narrowbanding rule. The rule, first proposed in 1992, seeks to make more efficient use of the radio spectrum and will double the number of available channels, according to information from the FCC.

Farmers and others who use a two-way radio will be affected, says John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University Extension Service ag machine systems specialist.

Here are the two main changes required:

•Switch from wideband (25 kHz bandwidth) voice or data systems to narrowband (12.5 kHz bandwidth or equivalent) systems. Most systems bought in 1998 or later can be reprogrammed by a two-way radio dealer to meet the FCC rule. Systems bought prior to 1998 may not be capable of reprogramming; if so, the operator would need to buy a system into which the new frequency can be placed.

Check with your two-way radio dealer if you’re uncertain about the frequency of your system, Nowatzki says.

•Apply for a license to operate on the narrowband frequency. Two-way radio users can contact the FCC or their dealer about the new license.

Typically, reprogramming costs $30 to $50, says Paul Haen, sales manager with Stone’s, a two-way radio dealer in Grand Forks, N.D.

The cost of a new narrowband system varies from about $300 to $1,000, he says.

Some two-way radio users who need to make the change have done so already, though many users have not, he says.

Haen notes that the FCC prohibits people with 25 kHz licenses to operate their equipment after Jan. 1. Violaters will be subject to penalties that include “admonishment, monetary fines and a loss of license,” according to the FCC.

Also as of Jan. 1, the FCC will no longer allow the manufacture or importation of equipment using the 25 kHz mode. So two-way radio users who don’t make the required switch to narrowband risk not being able to repair and operate their old 25 kHz equipment if it breaks down after Jan. 1, Hoen says.

Four more things to consider:

•Narrowbanding sometimes is referred to as “refarming.” The FCC website uses the former term.

•Switching to narrowband will reduce signal strength, although it’s unclear how much, according to the FCC.

•Users who switch from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz will be eligible for only one channel, not two, even though their new channel will take only half as much space.

•Though the FCC eventually could require a switch from 12.5 kHz to 6.25 kHz, no date for such a change has been set.

Information: www.fcc.gov.

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