Spectrum Coordination Seen As Essential to Defense Spectrum Transition

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Nov. 29 --Careful ongoing coordination of federal spectrum use will be critical to the Defense Department's decision to share spectrum with broadcasters in the 2 gigahertz (GHz) band, stakeholders told Bloomberg BNA in recent interviews.

On Nov. 25 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) endorsed a proposal that would permit Defense officials to relocate key fixed and mobile operations away from the 1755-1780 megahertz (MHz) band and into the 2025-2110 MHz band. Broadcasters and some cable operators currently use the 2025-2110 MHz band for broadcast auxiliary services (BAS) to transmit live video content from breaking news scenes, among other uses.

Broadcasters and defense officials have penned a basic framework to share the BAS band and continue to negotiate technical details for a forthcoming memorandum of understanding. Under the initial framework Defense officials would reach out to broadcasters to identify particular frequencies for use at specific times and locations. Ultimately, they agreed that if broadcasters have a need for a particular spectrum band, Defense officials would work around them, an NTIA official told reporters the week of Nov. 25.

According to the initial framework, broadcasters and Defense Department users will be considered co-primary users of the 2025-2110 MHz band but in practice broadcasters will be considered the primary users of the band said Rick Kaplan, executive vice president of strategic planning at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). “In other words [Defense] can't interfere with our operations, so that is going to have to require a good deal of coordination,” he said.

Broadcasters argue that TV stations must have primacy for certain frequencies in order to communicate life saving information during emergencies. The BAS band played a crucial role in the media's coverage of the Boston marathon bombing and the aftermath of recent tornados and hurricanes, broadcasters said.

Real Time Coordination

Broadcasters already share some spectrum at the top of the BAS band with nearly a dozen defense department satellite operations, said Joe Snelson, president of the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE). For more than 35 years SBE personnel have helped coordinate spectrum operations in the 2GHz band by linking live video feeds from reporters at the scene of breaking news events to broadcast stations via satellite.

It will be more difficult to prevent spectrum interference in the band when the military transitions munitions guidance, drones and other mobile military systems to the band, Snelson told Bloomberg BNA in an interview. “Satellite sites are fixed locations which make them relatively easy to calculate how they may interfere with broadcast operations in the band,” he said. “But as you begin to explore other uses where defense would be on various sites and possibly at various locations and facilities, trying to explore the impact of that to broadcasters is a work in progress.”

Spectrum sharing in the band will be particularly challenging in areas where defense bases are located near major cities and broadcast markets, Snelson said. “We only have a limited number of channels in the 2 GHz band and yet in some areas of the country like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York, there are far more news outlets than channels in that band so people have to share and coordinate.” Real time SBE coordinators will be partially responsible for ensuring that broadcast operations don't interfere with Defense systems and vice versa, Snelson said.

“If a breaking news event happens and we have to go cover it and it might interfere with a training mission, we notify [Defense officials] and they will shut down whatever they were going to do,” Kaplan told reporters. An NAB official said that if a news event occurs on a base, broadcasters would be able to maintain their spectrum primacy in order to communicate via the band.

Interference Avoidance Technologies

Shared spectrum environment policies will “work a lot better for companies and the government than what we do today because most of the frequencies lay fallow,” said George Schmitt, the chief executive officer of MB Technology Holdings, LLC. Advances in LTE wireless communications and cognitive radio technologies enable users to automatically seek out available spectrum and facilitate spectrum sharing on the same band, Schmitt told Bloomberg BNA.

Schmitt said that broadcasters and Defense officials will likely use interference avoidance technologies to mitigate frequency conflicts. “They are almost going to have to have some cognitive system that knows what the other one is doing,” said Schmitt. “The most likely outcome will be some kind of database like what has been proposed for TV white spaces.”

If the Federal Communications Commission approves the agreement between broadcasters and the Defense Department, the revised spectrum arrangement would free up much of the valuable 1755-1780 MHz band for commercial auction. The FCC is expected to soon release a decision that defines the new spectrum assignments and weigh in on its implementation.

Freeing up the 1755-1780 MHz band for commercial wireless broadband use could help bring two major administration initiatives closer to fruition:

• Increased revenue from the AWS-3 auction would help fund the deployment of FirstNet, a $7 billion nationwide broadband network for first responders, and

• bring the country 25 MHz closer to meeting President Barack Obama's goal of reallocating 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use by 2020.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com