Spectrum Sharing Proposal Brings Hope and Progress for Wireless Growth

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How the president's recent memo to the administration should help grow the wireless economy and jobs.

Not everything the government does further restricts our freedom or raises out taxes.  A great example is the president’s recent memo to his administration to find ways to better use the wireless spectrum.  Since the availability of spectrum is at the heart of any plan to grow the wireless and broadband businesses, this is a real blessing as it will significantly grow the economy as well as add more jobs.  Really.

The only part of the spectrum that is truly valuable for cell phones, wireless broadband and the growing M2M sector are those frequencies that include UHF (above 300 MHz), microwave (above 1 GHz) and millimeter waves.  Most of that spectrum is either almost fully assigned or not used very efficiently.  It is used by all manner of wireless devices from public safety/service mobile radio and cellular to radar and satellites.  The spectrum allocations cover both businesses and the military/government.  The most critical need right now is new spectrum to help meet the demand for faster cell phone data services fostered by the smartphone explosion in data (video) usage.  The desire to grow the broadband presence in the U.S. is another important need.

The president’s memo was to the FCC, NTIA, the Commerce Department and others to find ways to improve current spectrum use efficiency as well as ways to share their currently assigned spectrum with companies in the wireless business.  The goals are to free up spectrum so that the wireless carriers can expand their 4G (LTE) networks that provide the speed and capacity now being demanded by the increased smartphone and tablet usage. 

Furthermore, additional free spectrum can help fulfill the promise of the president’s 2010 National Broadband plan promise of freeing up to 500 MHz of additional spectrum by 2020.  The National Broadband plan is working but it could increasingly provide more affordable Internet access to rural and disadvantaged citizens sooner.  The memo also provides guidance for how selected agencies like NSF, NITA, NIST, DARPA and others can fund research related to improving spectrum use efficiency and sharing.

At the heart of the president’s message was to find more ways to share existing spectrum.  Such methods are already being adopted.  A whole new wireless world is developing around the white spaces where spectrum assigned to TV broadcasting is being shared by using cognitive radio techniques.  The spectrum sharing idea definitely has merit as the white space developments are proving and should work for other services as well.  With this plan along with the already planned spectrum auction for 2014, the wireless industry can get ready for the next wave of growth.

A parallel effort just announced is the formation of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA).   The DSA is a consortium of twenty three companies who have come together to promote regulatory policies and other efforts that will expand the use of spectrum sharing to grow the cellular and broadband wireless businesses.  The DSA should help expedite the adoption of rules, regulations, and technologies with will bring about increased broadband coverage and expanded M2M and Internet of Things services.

Government is generally slow to act but has done an admirable job of expediting wireless growth renewing not only hope but also encouraging real progress.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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