ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Input/Output: NTIA Spotlights Spectrum Sharing

By Charlotte Adams | November 1, 2005
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At a recent conference on spectrum management, John Kneuer, deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information, outlined initiatives by the federal spectrum management agency to forward the Bush administration's agenda for more spectrum sharing. The following discussion summarizes some of Kneuer's points in order to update readers on the perspective and plans of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA).

Kneuer perceives a "sea change in thinking amongst agencies" regarding spectrum management. He concedes that there are still concerns but sees a larger shift: "Whereas new technologies used to be viewed as a threat, [agencies are] embracing [them as] helpful in federal government missions." He cited the Department of Defense (DoD) as particularly forward-thinking. Indeed DoD's research agency has spearheaded the development of frequency-adaptive radios (see column, page 82). Expect a "steady drumbeat of products coming out of NTIA and in collaboration with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission]," he said.

Kneuer alluded repeatedly to the contentious ultra-wideband (UWB) communications approval process, involving NTIA, FCC and other federal stakeholders. For GPS users, this ended--for the time being, at least--in FCC's clearing UWB for unlicensed use mainly in the 3.1-to-10.6-GHz band, subject to a protective mask that limits emissions in this part of the spectrum.

UWB is a powerful technology with "almost limitless potential," Kneuer said, "but it doesn't fit into the way we normally regulate spectrum and communications." Because UWB intentionally emits over a wide swath of spectrum, it doesn't fit with traditional regulatory models. Regulators also had a hard time in the 5-GHz area, allowing WiFi wireless users to share spectrum with DoD radars and other federal users. Begun in 2003, the 5-GHz activity is now in the test phase, Kneuer said. "FCC will certify [the spectrum] for use, once regulatory issues have been resolved." As a regulatory matter, verifying the ability for these non-federal users to coexist with federal users has been, and continues to be, very difficult, Kneuer said.

The experience with UWB and the 5-GHz project "really put the spotlight on the limitations of the way we've done things," he said. This also helped to spark the president's Spectrum Policy Initiative, which "took a comprehensive look at how we can increase sharing between federal and non-federal users." NTIA aims to encourage innovative technologies and services while protecting the needs of existing users.

What to Do?

Besides creating a Policy and Plans Steering Group (PPSG), federal spectrum managers have chartered a federal spectrum management advisory committee to seek advice from the private sector on these issues. Kneuer expected a federal notice to be issued soon about this private sector outreach group.

Working with FCC, NTIA also is starting a spectrum sharing demonstration program, where both agencies identify a 10-MHz block of spectrum for such proposals. NTIA will develop the rules and make recommendations two years after testing begins.

At a more fundamental level, NTIA wants to develop a common language for discussing spectrum issues, along with agreed-upon principles and analytical tools, so that when a proponent of a new technology arrives at the agency, "we don't start from scratch, reinventing the wheel, and discussing what the terms of the discussion will be." Kneuer hopes to apply lessons learned from the earlier processes to spectrum sharing between disparate services.

There clearly are opportunies for further spectrum sharing, according to NTIA. Witness a "real-world" assessment of government spectrum use in the Baltimore-Washington area. While the "master file" on land mobile frequencies indicates the spectrum is maxed out, "we can in fact make more efficient use of spectrum, not just through narrow-banding, but through the way we design our systems," Kneuer said. Another thing NTIA will look at is the use of economic incentives to manage spectrum in the government space.

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