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FCC Amendment of Sections 90.20(d) and 90.265 of the Commission’s Rules to Facilitate the Use of Vehicular Repeater Units

Federal Communications Commission                 FCC 15-103

 Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, D.C. 20554

In the Matter of

Amendment of Sections 90.20(d) and 90.265 of the Commission’s Rules to Facilitate the Use of Vehicular Repeater Units – PS Docket No 13-229

Trinity County, California – FCC File No. 0006127744

County of Williams Sheriff’s Department – FCC File No. 0006070064

Panhandle Regional Planning Commission – FCC File No. 0005883249

City of Prineville, Oregon – FCC File No. 0006263046



Adopted:  August 6, 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Released:  August 10, 2015

By the Commission:

I.                    INTRODUCTION

  1. In this Report and Order we amend Part 90 of the Commission’s rules1 to allow the licensing and operation of vehicular repeater systems (VRS) and other mobile repeaters2 on six remote control and telemetry channels in the VHF band. 3 We dismiss as moot certain applications seeking to operate mobile repeaters on these channels on a waiver basis.
  2. Mobile repeaters extend the range of hand-held radios by allowing them to transmit their signals to a more powerful vehicle radio which then repeats the signals, on a different frequency to a base They also allow public safety vehicles to serve as ad hoc command centers, by allowing multiple hand-held units to use the vehicle repeater frequency as an on-scene tactical channel, especially in situations when there is inadequate coverage from the parent base station.
  3. Public safety entities have increasingly turned to VRS as a cost-effective way to enhance the overall effectiveness of a public safety communication system at a fraction of the cost of achieving the same result using infrastructure improvements. However, as we will detail below, there are technical and fiscal considerations that limit the choice of discrete frequencies that are available for VRS use in any given system. Today, we provide public safety entities with six additional frequencies for VRS use which will allow greater use of this valuable public safety technology while providing protection for incumbent telemetry users who rely on these frequencies for control of critical infrastructure systems.

II.                 BACKGROUND

  1.    In 2011, Pyramid Communications, (Pyramid), a manufacturer of wireless data and voice equipment, asked the Commission to amend our rules to allow the use of mobile repeaters in two specific VHF band segments:4
  • Nine frequencies in the 170-172 MHz band;5 and
  • Six offset frequencies in the 173 MHz 6
  1.   Although Section 90.247 of the Commission’s rules allows the use of mobile repeater stations on most frequencies in the VHF band, the 173 MHz band VHF frequencies in question are subject to specific rules and limitations that preclude the use of mobile repeater stations on these Specifically, these frequencies are designated for telemetry and remote control operations which are non-voice by definition, and thus are not naturally compatible with waveforms used by mobile repeater stations which support voice operations.7
  2.   On September 16, 2013, the Commission granted Pyramid’s petition in part and launched a rulemaking in the above-captioned docket to explore whether there is a need to make additional spectrum available to support mobile repeater 8 In the VRS NPRM, the Commission declined to seek comment on VRS operations on the nine channels that Pyramid had identified in the 170-172 MHz band, but did propose to allow mobile repeater use on the six telemetry channels in the 173 MHz band.9 The Commission sought comment on its proposal to amend Sections 90.20 (limitations 32, 33, and 34) and 90.175 of the Commission’s rules to enable mobile repeaters to operate on the 173 MHz band channels.10 In addition, the Commission sought comment on the following issues:11
  • Whether other spectrum bands or frequencies could also be used for public safety mobile repeater operations;
  • Whether improvements to mobile repeater equipment and filter design could reduce the minimum frequency separation requirements for mobile repeaters;
  • Whether to allow Industrial/Business use of mobile repeater stations on these channels;
  • Whether to impose bandwidth restrictions on these frequencies;
  • Whether frequency coordination could protect telemetry users from interference;
  • Whether to allow wide-area mobile repeater operations on these frequencies;
  • Whether to allow VRS units to exceed the 2 watt power limit that applies to these channels; and
  • The costs and burdens associated with allowing mobile repeater stations on the six 173 MHz band

III.              DISCUSSION

A.             Mobile Repeater Station Operations

7.   In the VRS NPRM, the Commission proposed allowing public safety mobile repeater stations on the six telemetry and remote control channels subject to coordination.12 Generally, public safety entities and manufacturers supported this proposal, citing the dearth of available VHF spectrum with sufficient spectral separation from commonly used VHF police and fire operating 13 Manufacturers claim that VRS units require 2-5 MHz of frequency separation between the mobile radio frequency and the portable radio “talk-back” frequency to prevent interference.14 Since the vast majority of VHF Public Safety Pool and Industrial/Business Pool channels are in the 150-160 MHz range, VRS units operating on the six 173 MHz band frequencies would have ample separation from the service channels.

8.  Critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities opposed the proposal, primarily on the grounds that the telemetry channels are heavily used, there is a shortage of available frequencies for non- voice operations in the Part 90 Public Land Mobile Radio (PLMR) bands, and that allowing VRS use of these channels would limit CII entities’ ability to expand supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems used to assure reliability and safety in the electrical grid and gas 15

9.  As a preliminary matter, the Commission asked whether alternative frequencies were available for mobile repeater 16 Commenting parties argued rather that the Commission, in addition to authorizing the use of mobile repeaters in the 173 MHz band, should also allow the use of VRS units in a variety of other bands, including the 700 MHz band,17 underutilized broadcast spectrum,18 frequencies  now allocated for Rural Radiotelephone Service,19 and certain UHF medical telemetry spectrum.20

10.  The interest in authorizing VRS in multiple bands appears to stem from the fact that public safety licensees have a preference for systems in which base stations, portables and VRS units all operate in the same band. Since public safety licensees can operate systems in VHF, UHF, 700 MHz or 800 MHz, these licensees want the ability to deploy VRS in any of those bands as well. Thus, licensees using 800 MHz systems prefer to use VRS that also operate in the 800 MHz band, while licensees using 700 MHz prefer to use VRS that also operates in the 700 MHz band. Virginia, for example, explains that it prefers using VHF mobile repeaters in VHF systems in the same band because, while it is desirable to have the portable unit first attempt to communicate with the VRS in the motor vehicle, if that link is lost due to an obstruction and a base station is nearby, the portable unit can maintain communications directly through the base 21 Moreover, Virginia notes that using VRS units that operate in a separate band from the base stations and portables “would require separate portable radios (not practically or economically feasible) or buying dual-band portables that could operate on both bands simultaneously (perhaps a technical solution, but not a practical solution absent funding to pay for thousands of such units).”22

11. The Commission also sought comment generally on whether improvements to mobile repeater equipment and filter design could reduce the requisite 2-5 MHz frequency separation between the mobile radio frequency and the portable radio “talk-back” frequency for mobile repeaters. This would increase the number of discrete frequencies that licensees could designate for mobile repeater 23 Commenters generally stated that the current state of filter technology precludes the use of filters to reduce the minimum frequency separation between the mobile radio frequencies and the portable “talk- back” frequencies.24

12.  As we discuss in more detail below, we agree with those commenters who believe that the six VHF frequencies at issue are suitable for VRS use. We also agree that the Commission should continue to explore the use of VRS in other spectral bands and monitor filter technology to see if improvements can reduce the amount of spectral separation. However, given public safety’s stated preference for the use of in-band VRS, coupled with the fact that it is currently not possible to reduce the requisite spectral separation through filter technology, we do not believe that frequencies in other bands are useful options for mobile repeater use at this time. Thus we will limit our analysis here to the six telemetry and remote control channels in the 173 MHz

B.                  Current Level of Use

13.  While public safety entities and manufacturers generally support the proposal to authorize VRS operations on the proposed frequencies citing the dearth of available and usable VHF spectrum, some CII entities oppose use of the proposed frequencies, claiming that these channels are heavily used.25 Some CII parties have further opposed VRS operations arguing that, while telemetry is data-only, VRS is primarily voice operations, and thus allowing VRS operations on these channels would heighten the risk of interference due to the inherent incompatibility of voice and data 26

14.  In evaluating the potential impact of VRS operations on these channels, it is instructive to assess the current level of use of the telemetry channels. The frequencies are currently designated for fixed remote control and telemetry operations and are shared between the Public Safety and Industrial/Business (I/B) Pools. The Commission first authorized these channels for telemetry use in 1977, and they have been available for telemetry use for over thirty years.27   A review of our ULS licensing database reveals that, nationwide, these six channels are not heavily populated.

Frequency (MHz) 173.2375 173.2625 173.2875 173.3125 173.3375 173.3625
Number of Call Signs 397 440 401 365 401 371
Number of Base Stations 1278 1620 1455 1350 1332 1242
Number of Users28 267 260 236 223 223 244

15. Mapping the base stations associated with these frequencies shows their geographical…

Read More Here: FCC-15-103A1