Pushing ahead on spectrum sharing

Shutterstock image: spectrum abstract.

Federal spectrum is a hot commodity. The government received $44.9 billion in bids for 65 megahertz of highly coveted spectrum formerly controlled by the Pentagon in an auction that concluded at the end of January. Clearing the spectrum in the Advanced Wireless Services 3 auction relocating incumbent users and developing spectrum sharing protocols took a lot of groundwork. Much of this was scoped out by the industry working groups of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), a group of experts from the private sector who advise the National Telecommunications and Information Agency on policy.

CSMAC has turned its attention to how agencies will go about making more spectrum, including federal spectrum, available for commercial use. While NTIA and other government entities are exploring the prospects of dynamic, real-time spectrum allocation, CMSAC is answering tough questions about how sharing policies might look in the highly regulated federal and commercial environments. The work is a small but important part of the Obama administration's plan to unleash 500 megahertz of spectrum for commercial use by 2020.

In a Feb. 18 meeting, CSMAC adopted draft recommendations to address how government and industry might begin to sort out issues of security classification in spectrum sharing with industry by using a database driven approach, and how sharing might work in both directions -- giving government access to commercially licensed spectrum for emergency use.

The CSMAC recommendations are non-binding, but as a working group under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, their deliberations give policymakers a sense of expert consensus. The group is still developing guidance on how to measure and predict spectrum needs by agencies, and how agencies might be compensated for sharing or relinquishing spectrum that goes for unlicensed use, and which therefore doesn't generate auction proceeds. There are limits to what can be accomplished administratively on spectrum, and legislative action might be required for agencies to be compensated for moving spectrum operations, or updating their systems to facilitate the still-developing technology of sharing.

It's not just mobile communications, but also connected devices, aerial drones, traffic management systems and other uses that are competing for precious airwaves.

The NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission are looking at repurposing 100 MHZ of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for local, small-cell applications and the use of unlicensed applications like Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band. Congress is also taking an interest. A bipartisan bicameral group of lawmakers is backing the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, introduced earlier this month, which would set swathes of spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unlicensed use. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and  Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) and Reps. Robert Latta (R-Ohio) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) are among the backers.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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