Defense rethinks its wireless needs

DOD seeks new policies and technologies to stay ahead of surging spectrum demand

As demand for wireless communications increases, so does the demand for spectrum policy reforms. “Radio frequency spectrum is a vital and limited national resource,” President Bush said when he announced his administration’s Spectrum Policy Initiative in 2003. At that time, he called for a comprehensive examination of U.S. spectrum management policies, including those governing military use, and he created an interagency task force to coordinate efforts to modernize those policies.

For its part, the Defense Department has tackled the modernization challenge by seeking new spectrum management technologies, easing restrictions on the use of the military spectrum and updating its governance rules to accommodate broader interests, including those of industry and international partners.

Military officials say better spectrum management is essential for network-centric warfare, which DOD envisions as the future of warfighting.

Several major DOD modernization programs promise to be spectrum-hungry. Examples include the Future Combat Systems and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical programs. The success of software-programmable radios, such as the Joint Tactical Radio System, depends on ample radio frequency spectrum.

“Spectrum’s like land, they’re not building any more,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer.

Boutelle said the Army faces spectrum issues in every country in which it operates. Countries often demand landing fees for spectrum use, and host-nation approval processes have been onerous and problematic, he said. DOD trains service members domestically but deploys them overseas where spectrum policies are often different and local governments favor their own industries, he said. As nations industrialize, they exert increasing control over their spectrum, which frequently complicates matters for U.S. forces deployed in those places, he added.

In the United States, two major factors are driving spectrum demand, said Badri Younes, DOD’s director of spectrum management. One is DOD’s shift to net-centric operations. The other is increased pressure from the commercial sector to make spectrum available for new commercial wireless products. “Everybody’s needs are growing,” and the federal government is moving to accommodate them through increased spectrum sharing, he said.

To help accommodate industry interests, the Federal Communications Commission held a three-month auction of government-owned spectrum, which included some military radio frequencies. Officials said the recent auction, which lasted from August through October, grossed $14 billion for the U.S. Treasury, $1 billion of which will be reserved to pay for relocating government users to other frequencies.

“In the DOD, we believe that the relationships that exist between economic growth and national security are intertwined,” Younes said. As it updates its spectrum policies, DOD is seeking more industry partnerships to achieve its goal of balancing military and commercial interests, he said. Taking advantage of newer technologies, DOD is moving toward spectrum management policies that allow more flexibility and mobility in spectrum use, Younes said. Warfighters need near-real-time ability to adjust spectrum use, he added.

For example, new communications systems frequently enter the battlespace in Iraq and Afghanistan and alter spectrum use. Stu Timerman, the Army’s spectrum manager, said greater reliance on satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and cell phones has increased demand for spectrum. DOD is using coordination procedures and data-compression technologies to squeeze more information into the same amount of spectrum, but the race between demand and technology “seems to be neck-and-neck right now,” Timerman said.

Greater flexibility
In addition to updating policy, DOD has several short- and long-term projects under way to deal with the spectrum management challenge. In the short term, it is creating greater incentives for military employees to pursue a career specialty in spectrum management.

For the long term, DOD has invested in a Global Electromagnetic Spectrum Information System (GEMSIS) initiative that will give it more flexibility in using existing radio frequencies. DOD intends to market GEMSIS to allied nations to help them better manage their spectrum in regions where U.S. forces are deployed, Younes said.

Flexibility in spectrum use is a win-win situation for government and industry, said Peter Pitsch, director of communications policy at Intel. Industry wants to ensure that sufficient spectrum is available for new commercial wireless products. “The traditional regulatory approach…has locked spectrum into old uses and old technologies,” he said.

If spectrum regulations are relaxed, Pitsch said, industry will have an incentive to create more spectrum-efficient technologies, thereby reducing pressure on the government to share spectrum.

7 objectives of President Bush’s spectrum initiativeIn 2003, President Bush established the Spectrum Policy Initiative to examine spectrum management policies. He also created an interagency task force, led by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to coordinate the effort.

NTIA’s implementation guidelines for the initiative include seven objectives.

  • Improve stakeholder participation and maintain qualifications of spectrum managers.

  • Reduce international barriers to U.S. innovation in spectrum technologies and services.

  • Modernize federal spectrum management processes with advanced information technology.

  • Satisfy public safety communication needs and ensure interoperability.

  • Enhance spectrum engineering and analytical tools.

  • Promote efficient and effective use of spectrum.

  • Improve long-term planning and promote the use of market-based economic mechanisms.
  • Source: National Telecommunications and Information Administration

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