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Obama Advisory Council to Recommend Greater Sharing of Scarce Airwaves

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
By Paul Barbagallo

President Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology is planning to recommend that the president call for as much as 1,000 MHz of government-held spectrum be shared with commercial broadband networks.

The council, known as PCAST, will detail the recommendation in a new report to be released within the next two weeks.



“We believe that there's much more efficient use of the federal spectrum that can be obtained through sharing.”

Mark Gorenberg
Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

“We believe that there's much more efficient use of the federal spectrum that can be obtained through sharing,” said Mark Gorenberg, managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and a PCAST member, during a meeting of the council May 25.

The recommendation comes as the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are under increasing pressure to identify and re-license spectrum for the next generation of mobile devices capable of browsing the internet at high speeds.

Under a presidential executive order issued in June 2010, the NTIA and FCC must make available for auction some 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband and similar applications by 2020.

The NTIA, which manages the government's use of spectrum, concluded in a report released in March that it is possible to free up 95 MHz of spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz band for either exclusive or shared use by commercial companies, but warned that some federal licensees, such as the Department of Defense, “could remain in the band indefinitely.”

The NTIA report has led to serious conversations within government and industry about the technical and logistical feasibility of sharing spectrum.

Time for a New 'Architecture.'
“It's time to create a new spectrum architecture,” said Gorenberg, who provided an outline of the recommendations to PCAST members.

Spectrum should be allocated not in small “fragments,” he said, but in “very large blocks,” which could better accommodate multiple users.

Spectrum should also be parceled out according to geography, time, code, and modulation, not just by frequency, he said.

To facilitate greater sharing, Gorenberg said the government should create a geo-location “spectrum access system” to delineate priority of use. As envisioned by PCAST, federal government licensees, such as the DOD, would be granted the highest priority of access, while commercial companies, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., would be given secondary access. A third group, “tertiary” users, would be afforded “general authorized access,” similar to Wi-Fi network operators, which utilized unlicensed spectrum.

'Receiver Management Framework.'
PCAST will also recommend that the president propose a new “receiver management framework” to ensure that receivers do not inhibit users in adjacent spectrum bands.

“We have found ourselves over time getting into trouble when we haven't set down rules about how these receivers would all work together…as we seen with the case of LightSquared [Inc.] and GPS [global positioning devices],” Gorenberg said.

One of the overarching recommendations in the report will be for the president to issue a memorandum stating that the U.S. goverment's policy is to share “unutilized” federal spectrum.

“That takes the will of the White House to move this forward, knowing that everyone has to start [considering sharing],” Gorenberg said. “This is a worldwide race. There are people looking at this everywhere…This actually is something that, I think, is economically very important for the United States to lead here: to both have our vendors out front and have our vendors go down this cycle of innovation and commercialization toward sharing so they can export their products overseas.”

Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft Corp., likened the situation facing policymakers to real-estate development.

“We have this pressing, almost crushing demand for capacity that can't be met,” Mundie said. “We can't create any new spectrum, just like we can't create any new land. Therefore we have to some way of coming back and finding a land-use model.”

AT&T Inc., which is eager to bid on new spectrum, expressed optimism about the report.

“In order to meet the growing demand for mobile Internet services, it is vital that more spectrum be made available for mobile broadband use,” Len Cali, AT&T's senior vice president of global public policy, said in a statement May 25. “We should be exploring all options to meet this important goal, including the sharing of federal spectrum when government use makes clearing and reallocation impractical. Today's study promises to be a productive contribution to the discussion.”

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