Wireless Bureau invites comments on possible ways to encourage “more intensive” use of Part 22 paging spectrum.

Late on a Friday afternoon in mid-October, the Wireless Bureau issued a curious public notice reminding licensees in the Paging and Radiotelephone Services of various rules in Part 22 that they’re supposed to be complying with. Following the reminder, the notice veered sharply, creating a new docket that could open the door for increased use of channels historically allotted for use by paging and radiotelephone services.

The Bureau is requesting comments on how to promote “more intensive” use of this Part 22 paging spectrum by its licensees. In particular, the Bureau hopes that, by increasing “technical or operational flexibility”, it might encourage Part 22 paging licensees to deploy “innovative technologies” and/or narrowband equipment, or use offset frequencies if they hold adjacent channel blocks.

It’s no secret that for years the demand for paging services has declined steadily, presumably a victim of the overwhelming consumer acceptance of snazzier (and more effective) ways to contact people (like, for instance, cell phones and smartphones). The decline has been such that at times the Commission has struggled to get rid of remaining paging licenses. And when major bidders for those licenses have recently shown up, they appear to envision using the spectrum for various non-paging technologies, such as vehicle-to-grid, vehicular tracking or management, and smart grid and other energy management.

Over the years the Commission has taken a number of steps to encourage use of Part 22 paging spectrum: permissible operations for paging licenses have been expanded (allowing them to offer fixed, mobile, and hybrid services); burdensome common carrier regulatory treatment has been eliminated; and other technical and licensing restrictions have been lifted. The Public Notice continues in that vein.

In addition to its suggestion that Part 22 might be ready for some “updat[ing]” as indicated above, the Notice observes that technologies such as Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) – a land-mobile communication standard used worldwide by public safety organizations, military and government agencies, and transportation entities – could be used on paging channels, if some Part 22 limitations on channel bandwidth and emission were to be tweaked.  Similarly, the Notice acknowledges that the use of frequency offsets could be useful in dealing with deployment of transmitters near the Canadian border – if such offsets didn’t violate Part 22 rules. The implication, obviously, is that the Bureau might be willing to kiss goodbye to such limitations if the result would be increased use of the spectrum.

It remains to be seen how far the Commission is willing to go to increase use of the paging frequencies, but the Notice makes clear that movement in that direction is a distinct possibility, maybe even a likelihood. If you’d like to chime in in response to the Notice, you’ve got until December 17, 2014 to file comments; reply comments are due by January 19, 2015. Comments can be filed electronically.