FCC Narrowbanding Mandate Information

Important information and frequently asked questions concerning the FCC Narrowbanding Mandate for Public Safety Radio Communications

All private radio systems—including those used by municipal government and State and local public safety systems—use blocks of radio spectrum called channels. Historically, systems have used 25 kilohertz (kHz) wide channels. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that all private users operating below 512 megahertz (MHz) move to 12.5 kHz narrowband voice channels. Using narrowbanded channels will ensure that agencies take advantage of more efficient technology and, by reducing channel width, will allow additional channels to exist within the same space in the radio spectrum.

In the radio spectrum set aside for public safety communications, agencies and jurisdiction licensed and operating in the following bands will need to comply with the narrowbanding mandate;

Very High Frequency (VHF) – High Band Range
148-174 MHz

Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
450-512 MHz

This will not affect every one. Agencies and jurisdictions licensed and operating in the following bands are NOT subject to the narrowbanding mandate;

VHF Low Band Range
25-50 MHz

800 MHz
Conventional or Trunked

There are specific dates the FCC has established as deadlines concerning the narrowbanding mandate. By January 1, 2011, the FCC will not grant applications for new voice operations or applications to expand the authorized contour of existing stations that use 25 kHz channels. Only narrowband authorizations will be granted.

As of January 1, 2013, the FCC has mandated that all non-Federal public safety licensees using 25 kHz radio systems migrate to narrowband 12.5 kHz channels.

Replacement equipment will not be available for older existing technology, or “legacy” systems and agencies that do not meet the deadline face the loss of radio communication capabilities.


  1. Are agencies and jurisdictions being forced to move to 800 MHz?
    No, Narrowbanding does not require moving to another frequency band.

  2. Will agencies and jurisdictions have to buy new radios?
    Maybe, most radios purchased in the last 6-8 years are already narrowband capable. They only need to be reprogrammed.

  3. Will agencies and jurisdictions need to change frequencies?
    No, merely reduce the bandwidth of the channel or channels now being used.

  4. Will that reduce coverage?
    Maybe, but little if any.  Surveys of system and area of operation may be needed. Only a thorough analysis of coverage requirements can tell for sure.

  5. Will conversion to digital be required?
    No, however, many agencies are using this opportunity to upgrade to digital technology.  Most digital radios are dual mode capable and can operate in wide band analog as well as narrowband analog and digital.  Digital is also more immune from adjacent channel interference along with features unavailable in analog.

  6. Isn’t this an unfunded mandate?
    Yes…but not really. The dates are extended enough to ensure most agencies have fully cycled through the expected life of their current equipment by the time the mandates kick in.

  7. How can I be sure my new equipment will be compliant?
    EMS agencies may purchase through their city or county from Commonwealth of Virginia contract….

  8. Where can I get more information?