5G push could require federal spectrum

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Communications policy leaders are looking put federal spectrum in the pipeline as the U.S. gears up for faster mobile broadband.

"We're looking to make sure we have enough spectrum to meet 5G needs," David Redl, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told a conference on March 27.

"One of the agency's core visions is striking a balance between the demand for spectrum from various commercial users and the needs of federal agencies," he said.

Redl's speech followed video remarks from  Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai in which he vowed to continue to "take a regulatory weed whacker" to accelerate commercial investment in broadband.

The government is currently looking at opening up 100 megahertz in the 3450-3550 MHz band, which is currently used for military radar. Redl said the move is crucial to expanding the U.S. broadband spectrum inventory, he said.

The FCC has already set rules for the adjacent 3550-3700 MHz mid-spectrum band for its planned Citizens Broadband Radio Service.  Together, he said the combined spectrum would provide a contiguous unbroken piece of broadband spectrum.

"We still have a lot of work to do to determine whether this will be viable for us, or whether it will go to auction," he said. That work includes study to see if the spectrum can support veteran incumbents, which includes government radars that are vital to national security, he explained.

"We hope the results of this hard work will be a win-win," for the DOD and commercial industry, he said.

In other efforts to shift federal spectrum to commercial use, Redl said NTIA is looking beyond legislation such as the Spectrum Pipeline Act passed in 2015 allowing federal agencies to relinquish their spectrum or share it with commercial providers.

"Clearing out bands is our priority, let's be clear. We will continue to look to find ways to clear it," he said. "We know that there are other bands where clearing out government users is not an option," he added.

NTIA is also working on alternative spectrum management approaches. For instance, Redl said the 2019 budget bill signed by the president last week authorizes NTIA to set leases for federal spectrum holdings.

"This could be a valuable tool in areas where clearing is not an option, but there are potential extra uses for the band," said Redl. The details of the "high-level proposal," he said, "have to be sorted out," before moving ahead.

Redl said his agency is also looking at ways to incentivize agencies to identify potential bands that could be shared and how they might leverage new technologies.

A telecommunications rider in the recently enacted omnibus spending bill also contains an important provision that could push agencies to research and find likely spectrum to hand over for commercial use. The measure also allows funds to be fast-tracked to agencies that agree to relinquish spectrum for commercial auction.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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