Sprint Nextel told the FCC this week that the BAS transition could be completed by August 2009, five months earlier than previously expected.
The telecommunications giant—which is financing the multi-billion dollar effort to move broadcasters to the 2 GHz spectrum, made its comments to the commission after a day-long conference Nov. 27 between Sprint and broadcast representatives from NAB, the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) and the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE), among others. The meeting was mandated after the commission granted a second 60-day extension of the BAS transition in November. Other parties in the conference included several independent broadcast licensees, BAS systems integrators, BAS installation firms, BAS equipment manufacturers, T-Mobile USA and the mobile satellite service licensees TerreStar Networks and ICO Global Communications Limited.
Attendees hammered out a four part plan that Sprint said, “barring unforeseen circumstances,” could conclude the BAS transition by August 2009. The acceleration plan calls for:
- Establishing a comprehensive monthly market-by-market relocation schedule based in large part on the market entry needs of the MSS licensees, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel, which will be using the vacated spectrum in the 800 MHz band.
- Adopt benchmarks to accelerate negotiations for BAS frequency relocation agreements and ordering new BAS equipment;
- Reduce paperwork associated with finalizing equipment agreements and simplify the change order process to speed equipment to market, and
- Appoint more than 200 discrete “BAS Acceleration Teams” comprised of experienced representatives from the broadcast industry and Sprint Nextel to help facilitate and accelerate the transition.
Sprint said that the plan “has the potential to save substantial time over earlier projections.” When it originally requested the extension last fall, Sprint told the FCC that the transition, which began in 2005, had proven “far more complicated and time consuming” than originally believed.
The analog shut off scheduled for February 17, 2009, also entered into the discussions. “Many of the resources devoted to the BAS relocation process, including station engineers, tower crews and installers, are already working at full capacity to meet the DTV transition deadline,” Sprint told the commission. “There are a very limited number of qualified tower workers, so stations have made every effort to coordinate the tower work needed to meet the DTV and BAS relocation.”
As of December 2007, Sprint has spent more than $292 million on BAS gear, which covers 18,000 items, including more than 2,500 transmitters, 2,700 receivers, 5,900 controllers, 2,200 portables, 1,400 fixed links, and nearly 2,000 antennas and antenna upgrades. By the end of this month, 28 stations in 17 markets are expected to have completed their transition, according to Sprint.
MSS licensees have identified areas around Las Vegas (which is expected to make the switch this month), Salt Lake City, Raleigh, NC, Washington, DC and Houston as priority areas for the switchover.