A major policy goal for the FCC is promoting public safety interoperability - to ensure that emergency responders and other state, local and tribal public safety agencies from different jurisdictions and disciplines can communicate with each other. The Commission has fostered interoperability by requiring or promoting common technical standards and designating radio channels in 700 MHz and other spectrum bands specifically for "mutual aid" or interoperability purposes.

Most recently, in July 2007, the FCC adopted the 700 MHz Second Report and Order that established a regulatory framework for the 700 MHz public safety band to facilitate the establishment of a nationwide, interoperable broadband communications network for the benefit of state and local public safety users. The FCC allocated 10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum for an advanced, public safety broadband network to be implemented by a public/private partnership. The parties are required to adopt, subject to ultimate FCC approval, a broadband standard with a nationwide level of interoperability.

Other major efforts by the Commission include, in 2000, designating interoperability or mutual aid channels for mainly voice communications in other public safety bands, including the 800 MHz, UHF (450-512 MHz), and VHF (150-174 MHz) bands. Across the public safety bands, the Commission also has rules in place that require incorporation of mutual aid or interoperability channels into radio equipment as part of the equipment authorization process.

In 2001, the Commission adopted the Project 25 (P25) common air interface interoperability standard in the 700 MHz narrowband (voice and low speed data) allocation, designating sixty-four paired channels for nationwide interoperable voice and data communications, administered by states or regional planning committees. The Commission also allocated 2.4 MHz of spectrum for narrowband licenses to each state, to facilitate statewide systems, improve interstate frequency coordination and provide additional opportunity for the development of interoperability capabilities.

In 2002, the FCC allocated 50 MHz in the 4940-4990 MHz band (4.9 GHz band) for fixed and mobile services and designated the band for use in support of public safety. This allocation and designation provide public safety users with additional spectrum to support new broadband applications such as high-speed digital technologies and wireless local area networks for incident scene management. The spectrum also can support dispatch operations and vehicular or personal communications. The Commission established a regulatory framework to foster strategic partnerships between traditional public safety entities and Federal and non-traditional public safety entities. This action completed the process of transferring this spectrum from Federal Government to non-Federal Government use pursuant to statutory requirements of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.

Recent Commission Action to Facilitate Interoperability

The Commission also has taken specific actions to assist public safety entities with implementing interoperable communications systems. For example:

  • Reallocating TV channel 16 (482-488 MHz) in New York City and Los Angeles on a permanent basis to relieve spectrum congestion problems, with the secondary benefit of facilitating interoperable public safety communications among public safety agencies in these major metropolitan areas.
  • Granting relief under Section 337 of the Communications Act, to enable achievement of interoperable public safety communications systems that integrate current spectrum resources into existing networks.
  • Adopting various orders and granted various authorizations to enable the National Capital Region to deploy an interoperable public safety network, including on the newly allocated 700 MHz spectrum, throughout the Washington, DC region.

Interoperability Spectrum Allocations

Interoperability as "[a]n essential communications link within public safety and public service wireless communications systems which permits units from two or more different entities to interact with one another and to exchange information according to a prescribed method in order to achieve predictable results." 47 C.F.R. Section 90.7

The Commission has designated interoperability channels in the following frequency bands:

Band Attributes
Below 512 MHz  
150-174 MHz
  • One calling channel
  • Four tactical channels (0.25 megahertz total)
156-162 MHz
  • Two channel pairs for interoperability in thirty-three Economic Areas (EA), where these channels are allocated for public safety (.0375 megahertz total)
220-222 MHz
  • Ten channels for mutual aid (.04 megahertz total)
450-512 MHz
  • One calling channel
  • Three tactical channel pairs (0.2 megahertz total)
763-775 MHz / 793-805 MHz
  • Sixty-four paired narrowband channels designated for nationwide interoperable voice and data communications (0.8 megahertz total)
763-768 MHz / 793-798 MHz
  • Allocated for broadband communications pursuant to the Public Safety Broadband License
  • 10 megahertz allocated for a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network to be provided via a public/private partnership.
769-775 MHz / 799-805 MHz
  • States are responsible for administration of the Interoperability channel in the frequency band (2.4 MHz)
  • Transmitters designed for voice and data operation must include a 12.5 kHz bandwidth mode of operation conforming with Project 25 standards
  • Mobile and portable transmitters operating on narrowband channels in the 769-775 MHz and 799-805 MHz frequency must be capable of operating on all of the designated nationwide narrowband Interoperability channels (see 47 C.F.R. Section 90.547).
806-809 MHz / 851-854 MHz
  • Five channels for nationwide interoperable voice communications (0.125 megahertz total) (see 47 C.F.R. § 90.617(a)(1))
4.9 GHz
  • Eighteen channels designated to foster interoperability by providing a regulatory framework in which traditional public safety entities can pursue strategic partnerships with both traditional public safety entities, such as the Federal Government, and non-traditional public safety entities, such as utilities and commercial entities, in support of their missions regarding homeland security and protection of life and property. (50 megahertz total)

Relevant Rules and Other Developments

Federal Government Use

  • Section 2.103(a) permits Federal use of non-Federal frequencies in bands above 25 MHz (except the 700 MHz public safety bands) if the Commission finds that such use is "necessary for coordination of Federal and non-Federal activities."
  • Section 2.103(b) permits Federal use of 700 MHz narrowband and 4.9 GHz channels with non-Federal entities if the Commission finds such use necessary; where: (i) "the stations are used for interoperability or part of a Federal/non-Federal shared or joint-use system;" (ii) the Federal entity obtains the approval of the non-Federal licensee; (iii) the Federal operation comports with the Commission's rules and conforms with any conditions agreed upon by the Commission and NTIA; and (iv) "Interoperability, shared or joint-use systems are the subject of a mutual agreement between the Federal and non-Federal entities."
  • Section 1.203(c) permits Federal use of the 700 MHz broadband spectrum with non-Federal entities, where:
    • "The Federal entity obtains the prior approval of the Public Safety Broadband Licensee (and such approval granted by the Public Safety Broadband Licensee is consistent with the terms and conditions of the Network Sharing Agreement under Section 90.1406);" and
    • "Federal operation is in accordance with the Commission's Rules governing operation of this band and conforms to any conditions agreed upon by the Commission and NTIA."


  • Section 90.203(i) requires equipment certified after February 16, 1988 and marketed for public safety operation in the 800 MHz band to be programmed on the mutual aid channels.
  • Section 90.203(j)(1) provides that applications for certification received after January 1, 2005, for mobile and portable transmitters designed to transmit in the 150-174 MHz or 450-470 MHz bands, will be granted only if the equipment is capable of operating on the designated nationwide public safety interoperable calling channels.
  • Section 90.203(i) requires equipment in the 800 MHz band to have the capability to be programmed for operation on the mutual aid channels.
  • Sections 90.547(a) and 90.548 require mobile and portable narrowband radios to be capable of operating on the interoperability channels using the P25 standard to ensure that all public safety entities using 700 MHz narrowband radios will be able to communicate with each other.