WASHINGTON April 6, 2012 – Last week the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) announced their finding that 95 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum residing in the 1755-1850 MHz band can be repurposed for commercial wireless use. NTIA’s report was in response to a 2010 Memorandum from the president asking the Department of Commerce through NTIA to work with the FCC to find an additional 500MHz of spectrum to be made available for commercial use in the next 10 years. NTIA then developed a ten year plan and timetable with input from the Policy Plans and Steering Group (PPSG) that identified 2200 megahertz of federal and non federal spectrum that could be used for wireless broadband use.
Last week’s report along with NTIA’s 2010 Fast Track Report to reallocate 115 megahertz of spectrum to wireless broadband would mean that the federal agencies have identified 40 percent of the spectrum needed to meet the president’s goal.
This particular swath of spectrum that NTIA targeted in its latest report is currently used by over 20 federal agencies for various law enforcement and military functions. These federal agencies currently hold 3100 assignments within this band.
NTIA’s report states that “while there are a number of challenges to repurposing, NTIA concludes that it is still possible to repurpose all 95MHz of the band.” These challenges are not small. The report notes that the challenges to repurposing the band include the high cost and long timeline for reallocation as well as whether the band can be made exclusively available for commercial use. “NTIA believes that agencies need to engage with industry to identify potential solutions, which could include partial clearing scenarios and a phased approach to commercial auctions and entry.” In addition NTIA stresses that spectrum sharing will be vital to addressing the growing spectrum needs of the federal and non federal users.
Some of the challenges in the report are laid out in more detail below:
Comparable Spectrum – NTIA and the FCC must first find comparable spectrum bands to maintain the similar types of federal operations occurring in the 1755-1850 MHz bands. A number of agencies have identified other bands that can support their operations, however according to the report “further analysis may reveal other ways to provide comparable capabilities at lower transition cost, opportunity cost, and/or complexity, such as improvements in spectrum efficiency or identification of other comparable destination bands.”
Incumbent Licensees – Addressing the needs of incumbent licensees when reallocating federal agency operations is another serious concern. The report notes that sharing and additional relocation will have to be utilized to assure that relocated licensees have the proper protections for their uses in the band.
Relocation Costs – The law requires that spectrum auction costs must exceed federal reallocation costs, but given the complex scenarios for reallocation this might be a serious hurdle to overcome.
Bring Stakeholders Together – Another challenge for the NTIA and the FCC will be to bring together federal agencies and industry to encourage communication and discussion about relocation, transition and sharing opportunities.
Timing for Relocation – The report warns that “the complexity of certain federal systems and the time required to redesign and modify those systems prevents the federal agencies from moving all of their operations from this band within the next ten years.” Due to the timing issues, the report resolves that there will be a high possibility of interference during the transition phase, and therefore further analysis must be done to come up with sharing techniques, interference mitigation techniques, and new tech solutions to prevent such interference.
Additional Regulatory Mechanisms to Implement Sharing – The reports hints at the fact that there will definitely be a need for spectrum sharing arrangement. “Sharing during the transition period and possibly thereafter will require establishment of clear regulatory mechanisms prior to any auction to ensure appropriate protection of federal operation and acknowledgment by industry of its status with respect to potential interference from federal operations.”