ARCIA clarifies 400 MHz issues

Monday, 22 November, 2010

The ACMA has released details of forthcoming changes to the 400 MHz band following its extensive review. These changes are likely to affect operations of two-way radios, and the Australian Radio Communications Industry Association (ARCIA) has issued a statement that, it says, clarifies some of the points raised by the authority. Headed ‘ACMA changes to radio licences’, the statement goes on:

You may have recently received a letter from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regarding changes to the 400 MHz band of radio spectrum, if you did the letter would have no doubt been a little confusing and other than pointing out that there are changes coming and that ACMA are running seminars to explain them, not much else would have made sense.

Perhaps the following might help to make it easier to understand -

  1. What is going to happen - over the next few years there will be changes made to the operating frequencies of many radio communications systems, these changes will mainly affect two-way radio systems operating on UHF radio channels.
  2. Who will be affected – pretty much most users with equipment operating in the ‘400 MHz band’ which is between 403 MHz and 520 MHz, except for those operating on ‘Trunked radio systems’ like those operated by Telstra Fleetcoms or Vertel.
  3. What will the changes be - because the spectrum is getting very congested in areas like Melbourne and Sydney, the channel bandwidths used for two-way radio will be reduced (a bit like making the lanes on a freeway a little narrower to allow more lanes of traffic to run along the road).
  4. Anything else - well yes, as part of the review there will be more spectrum made available for our ‘Public Safety’ agencies like Police, Fire, Ambulance and similar services and the spectrum will be shuffled around a little to give them radio channels that can work together in major emergencies, something that is becoming more important every day.
  5. When will this happen - for radio licencees in Melbourne and Sydney it will start to happen within the next twelve months and so you should be starting to plan now (talk to your radio equipment supplier or service company) as the changes will have to be in place within a couple of years, for other areas it will have a longer lead-time with the complete program completed within eight years.
  6. How does that affect you - it will depend on which section of the spectrum your service is operating in and you will need to get some advice, but basically the following will give you an indication of what is involved -
  • If your service is in the 403-420 MHz section, you will have to change frequencies and this may entail new equipment.
  • If your service is in the 450-470 MHz section, you will most likely have to make changes to your operating frequency, however, if your existing equipment is less than ten years old it will probably accommodate the changes. Any equipment purchased over fifteen years ago will probably need to be replaced.
  • If your service is in the 470-500 MHz section, you may only have to make changes to the programming of your equipment to operate on the narrower channels.
  • If your service is in the 500-520 MHz section, again you may only have to make changes to the programming of your equipment; however, many of the services will already be operating on narrow band channels.
  1. Is that it - well, not quite, in most cases your repeater equipment will be operating from a radio site operated by a radio site provider and the effect of the changes in high density radio sites is quite significant, so there will be much work and planning to be done to organise the equipment changes on those types of sites, so it is important to work with your equipment and site suppliers to coordinate the changes and equipment upgrades that will be necessary.
  2. How do I check what the effects will be on me - check your radio licence, it will show the operating frequencies and also the type of emission (channel bandwidth) you are using at present -
  • Emission type 16K03FE means a wide band channel and you will have to make changes.
  • Emission type 10K01FE means a narrow band channel and you may have to make some minor changes, unless you are in the 403-420 MHz section.

The bottom line is that you should be talking to your equipment supplier or service provider very soon to evaluate what changes may be required and begin planning. ACMA have indicated that in some instances they may be prepared to offer some incentives for existing licensees to make changes early so that they can begin the ‘shuffling’ exercise to relocate services as required. It is also important from a budget planning exercise to know if you have to replace equipment and then be able to plan for it in a responsible manner.


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