Simon Green, General Manager of Icom NZ answers some of the questions being asked by the forestry industry about the confusion between "going digital" and narrowbanding.
It's a common misconception that, like analogue TV, your analogue radios are going to be switched off. In fact, although there are many compelling reasons to consider a digital upgrade, you don't need to rush into a complete replacement of your radios just yet! Even though narrowbanding is being pushed by some manufacturers as a migration path for the new digital technology, it doesn't mean that analogue radios will no longer be supported or have a place in the forestry industry.
What is Narrowbanding?
The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has announced that in order to allow for an increasing number of users in radio frequency bands, 25 kHz radio equipment needs to be phased out and migrated to more efficient Land Mobile Radio (LMR) technologies
When does all this happen?
For licensed frequencies up to 470MHz the deadline is 1st November 2015 and for frequencies above 470MHz it's December 2019. Some dispensation has been given to the forestry industry to allow for reprogramming work to be done up to the end of the New Year break 2016.
Who does it affect?
All radio license holders that operate on UHF or VHF channels – both simplex and using a repeater. If you've been in operation for more than 10 years, chances are you are operating on wideband channels and will need to change. Most licenses issued in the last 10 years or so are probably already narrowband. If you are unsure, Icom offer a free license check service to tell you quickly if you are affected.
Do I need new radios?
Major manufacturers such as Icom have been making narrowband capable radios for over 10 years now, so if your radios are less than 10 years old they probably only need reprogramming. If your radios are around 10 years old or more then you need to check with your radio supplier or the manufacturer.
If your current radios are wideband only will you need to replace them.
Will I need a new license?
If your license isn't a narrowband license then yes, absolutely. The cost of applying for a new license is only a few hundred dollars so there's no reason to wait. Once you have your narrowband frequencies issued, your radio supplier can reprogram your narrowband radio equipment easily and quickly.
Should I "Go Digital"
Although digital radios provide clearer audio, greater range, longer battery life, with more features, a full digital switchover isn't always the best solution. There are some areas of use, including forest type environments, where analogue is potentially a better solution. Analogue radios don't experience the "digital cliff" where digital radios completely stop working and won't transmit or receive after reaching a certain distance. Transmission from analogue radios gradually fade out where voices become static and hard to hear – it lets you know when you're starting to move out of range so you know your distance limit instead of suddenly dropping out of communications range.
What should I do now?
Effective communication is vital for safety, especially when working in a hazardous environment such as the forestry industry. For example, a digital radio solution in vehicles operating alongside ground teams using analogue radios is potentially a better solution for forestry type environments rather than solely analogue or digital.
Icom digital repeaters are capable of operating in mixed mode which makes communications possible between analogue and digital radios. Having an Icom mixed mode digital and analogue radio solution ensures the benefits of both digital and analogue are received simultaneously.
Right now you need to be talking to your radio supplier and checking if your radios are cpable of operating at 12.5 kHz. If the answer is "No" then you will need to replace your radio equipment with a more modern analogue or digital radio.
Above all, don't rush into putting up a new digital radio network that you don't necessarily need right now.
For further information or to ask any other radio related questions, call Simon Green at Icom NZ on 09 274 4062 or visit our contact us page.