Larry Strickling could become an American hero. NTIA chief Strickling is looking at a remarkable 960 MHz of mostly U.S. government spectrum for sharing. It's not impossible this will double the effective spectrum for use in much of the United States. More likely, the other agencies - largely the Defense Department - will preserve much of the monopoly. Given that the entire Verizon or AT&T network can fit into 55 MHz, the potential gains are impressive.

The 3.5 GHz spectrum recently opened for sharing had largely been used by the Navy. With few aircraft carriers in Iowa and North Dakota, it lay fallow. The same is certainly true of other government spectrum now under investigation. 

"Sharing is the U.S. Government policy," I heard as a member of the U.S. State Department ITAC. That policy arose out of the very important PCAST report, which in 2012 transformed the discussion about spectrum. François Rancy of the ITU and several EU officials have told me how influential it has been internationally.

Craig Mundie of Microsoft and Eric Schmidt of Google officially presented the report and gave it a strong public endorsement. From the FCC,  Rashmi Doshi, Walter Johnston, & Julius Knapp had important input. They are respected engineers who unfortunately are usually overlooked by the FCC Commissioners. Perhaps most important, the PCAST group reached out to independents including Vint Cerf, David Clark, Andrea Goldsmith, Michael Marcus, Robert Horvitz, Jon M. Peha, and Eli Noam.  

One reason that NTIA is making progressive moves is that the group is not just the usual lobbyists and government reps. Charla Rath of Verizon is included, but so is Marty Cooper, who built the first cellphone; Dennis Roberson of IIT, who has done important academic work on how spectrum is used; Dale Hatfield of the University of Colorado; and key public advocates Harold Feld of Public Knowledge and Mike Calabrese of the New America Foundation.   


From Larry's speech

we are evaluating the feasibility of increased sharing by unlicensed devices in up to 195 megahertz of the 5 GHz band.  We are also working with federal agencies to assess their spectrum use in another five bands accounting for 960 megahertz of spectrum.  And based on the quantitative assessments these agencies will provide later this year, we will then be in a position to prioritize some of those bands for detailed sharing feasibility studies.  Collectively, these efforts are key to meeting and moving beyond the 500-megahertz target.

Still, as I said earlier, there is more be done to bring widespread spectrum sharing to reality.

First, we must develop advanced spectrum sharing technology and tools. These include smart radios that can sense which frequencies are available for use in real time, and spectrum access databases that can dynamically track who is using which bands to avoid interference with protected incumbents.

Also as our airwaves become more crowded, we need to establish processes and policies to ensure that everyone – public and private sector alike – plays by the rules.  After all, it won’t matter how much spectrum we make available for sharing if the frequencies are too congested or too chaotic to be usable.

Yesterday, CSMAC member Janice Obuchowski, a predecessor of mine as NTIA Administrator, commented that all of these recommendations for sharing won’t be effective until NTIA and the FCC address this important enforcement issue.  She is right, and we need to make this a priority for our work.

And third, we need to promote cooperation and collaboration – and build trust and buy-in – across the public and private sectors so that we can identify more sharing opportunities and make it work in practice.            

The new Center for Advanced Communications, sponsor for this conference, will be an important player across all of these issues with its focus on cutting-edge research and development, experimentation and testing.

The Center brings together the research and engineering expertise of NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, which has extensive experience conducting spectrum measurements and analysis, along with NIST, which performs world-class research related to advanced communications.  I want to acknowledge NIST’s Co-Director of the Center, Kent Rochford.  And I’m also pleased to announce that Keith Gremban, formerly of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, will be starting Monday as NTIA’s Co-Director for the Center.  With the leadership now on board, we expect the Center to be fully operational by the end of the year.   

The key mission of the CAC is to serve both other federal agencies and industry to solve some of the challenges of spectrum sharing through our testing, measurement and modeling capabilities.  To help identify and satisfy the needs of these customers, we’ve already worked with the Department of Defense to create the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN), which will provide a framework not just for DOD but for other agencies and industry to work with CAC.   

The Center for Advanced Communications is also conducting its own innovative research, development and testing.

I’d like to highlight one initiative in particular – CAC’s spectrum monitoring project to measure spectrum utilization.  Spectrum monitoring is important since it can help identify frequency bands of most interest for potential future sharing and support the enforcement of rules to avoid interference once sharing is in place.

CAC is currently measuring occupancy and emission levels of incumbent  Naval radar systems in the 3.5 GHz band that the FCC just opened up to sharing.  This effort could lay the groundwork for moving from exclusion zones to coordination zones, and potentially this effort could grow into a more dynamic spectrum coordination and enforcement activity, which would allow greater commercial access to that spectrum.  

The project is already collecting data from sensors in Virginia Beach and will be deploying sensors in San Diego, San Francisco and the Florida Keys in the months ahead.  Eventually we want to get this up and running in six locations around the country.

CAC is seeking to establish the infrastructure and best practices to allow other labs and researchers to contribute meaningful and uniform data to various spectrum monitoring data projects.

Other research and development priorities for CAC include software simulations of spectrum utilization scenarios and research into millimeter wave technology.  Software simulations can help predict signal propagation characteristics, allowable interference levels and other performance measures to determine if sharing is even feasible in certain bands.  And millimeter wave research is focused on developing new technology capable of operating in higher frequency bands currently not feasible for commercial wireless services.

Our goal for CAC is to develop a reputation for it as being an honest broker and a trusted third party for both federal agencies and industry.  The CAC will be critical to fostering the public private coordination and collaboration and generating buy in from all sides that will be needed to make sharing work.