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Utilizing Spectrum To Its Maximum Potential Relies On the Hard Work of Spectrum Engineers

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Spectrogram of an FM radio transmission. Left are low frequencies, right are high frequencies. New lines come in from the bottom and move to the top.

November 8, 2020 — The future of the spectrum industry relies on engineers developing processes to squeeze the most out of each band of spectrum, said a panel of spectrum policy experts contributing to a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Thursday.

“There is no new, greenfield spectrum, there’s a finite amount,” said Colleen King, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter Communications. “It’s a hard problem for engineers to solve.”

To clarify some of the foundational scientific principles behind spectrum management, spectrum engineers Rob Kubik, senior director of public policy at Samsung Electronics and Ronald Williams, division chief of the office of engineering and technology at the FCC, were present and exposed audiences to the formulaic process behind managing government and commercial spectrum.

Screenshot of panelists from the FCBA event

The pair detailed the importance of planning, calculating, and researching, when setting out to build a telecommunications network, or other spectrum-based system.

“There are a lot of factors to take into account when designing a system,” said Kubik, “you have to calculate equations for each aspect of planning.”

“Engineers have to calculate all these numbers and formulas to come up with a synopsis of what is happening in an area,” to determine how a system will operate, added Williams. For example, engineers must calculate how much wattage is needed to push a signal through space.

Further, spectrum technologists must estimate propagation loss, which determines signal levels at a given receiver.

“When towers communicate with a mobile phone, there will be a loss of signal, depending on a number of factors such as distance, obstacles, and angles,” said Williams, adding that “propagation loss is always the most contentious part of analyzing any FCC proceeding.”

Further, engineers must ensure that all entities cooperate with one another.

“You must be cognizant of the existing technology,” said Kubik. “When managing spectrum, you should utilize the spectrum data base which logs who owns what resources.”

The U.S. Table of Frequency Allocations from NTIA offers a visual of how spectrum is currently allocated between the executive and legislative branches. (The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce):

The Commerce Department’s NTIA spectrum frequency allocation table from January 2016

“You have to coexist with existing laws, pertaining to allocation of use,” reiterated Williams.

During the second panel, which followed the more technical overview, Jamison Prime, associate chief in the Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC, critiqued the layout of the Frequency Allocation Table for being misleading, saying that AM bands look big on the chart, but in reality, they are short. Prime also noted that the table does not account for unlicensed spectrum.

“Not all spectrum is created equally,” said Prime, “different spectrum is suited for different technology.”

For example, the CBRS band, in the 3.5 Gigahertz band, is unique from other bands due to the Spectrum Access System it utilizes. SAS is a frequency coordination system which mediates between those using the band at the same time.

The CBRS band is a “complex exciting band, in a good spot of spectrum,” said King. “People are excited about this band. Four times the average number of bidders bid in the CBRS auction.”

“Mid-band spectrum provides the best of all possible worlds,” said Therese Jones, senior director of policy at the Satellite Industry Association. “That’s why there is so much work in the C-band currently. Engineers are clearing up spectrum which used to be used for satellite operations for terrestrial 5G use.”

“Geostationary satellite operators are switching to utilize higher frequency spectrum, which will hugely increase capacity,” said Jones, adding that the reengineering process is extremely difficult for engineers.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Spectrum

More Experts Weigh In On Possibility 12 GHz Band Can Be Shared with 5G Services

More experts weight in on the debate about whether the 12 GHz band can coexist with 5G operations.

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Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2021 – Experts at the New America Open Technology Institute last week suggested that the 12 Gigahertz band can be shared with 5G wireless services and argued that the big-name proponent that says it can’t has allegedly not produced evidence saying otherwise.

The Federal Communications Commission, studying the sharing possibility, has fielded comments from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has argued that the 12 GHz band used by satellite services, cannot be shared with 5G wireless providers because of interference problems. On the other hand, providers like RS Access have argued that it can, using a technical study from RKF Engineering to demonstrate as such.

At a New America Open Technology Institute event on November 2, Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, alleged SpaceX hasn’t submitted any studies showing it’s not possible to share spectrum.

Burke said SpaceX has no engineering analysis supporting its claim that the band could not be shared. “Incumbents are not open to sharing spectrum” she said, alleging a strong desire for SpaceX to win exclusive use licenses for its satellite venture.

“The evidence demonstrates it is possible to share this band,” she added.

Nicol Turner-Lee, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, said that it’s worth looking at innovations in satellite. “When we come up with a solution for the digital divide, shared spectrum use [of the 12GHz band] has always been on the palate,” she said.

“The question is, can we get along when there’s so many people that are disconnected,” she added. “This may not be picking winners and losers and more about getting everyone on board…no one should hog the spectrum if it’s at the expense of communities that need it most.”

Mid-band crucial for 5G

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said that the 500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum on the 12GHz band offers more speed and potential than any other mid-band spectrum being considered by the FCC. Using the 12Ghz band for 5G and authorizing the band for open shared access could “promote more competition, enhance the benefits of next-generation Wi-Fi, and help address the digital divide,” he said.

The RKF engineering study concluded that Starlink’s SpaceX low-earth orbit satellite terminals can reject 5G signals; technology used by mobile wireless networks will direct energy toward handsets, not satellite terminals; and 5G networks will largely be used in higher population areas while Starlink will target mostly rural areas.

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Spectrum

House Democrats Introduce Bill to Free Up Mid-Band Spectrum for Auction, Flexible Use

The bill would ensure adequate mid-band spectrum is available for commercial use to expand broadband availability.

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Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-California.

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2021 – Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, and Doris Matsui, D-California, have introduced a bill that would free up new airwaves for wireless broadband use by the public, which the representatives claim would mean faster speeds and more responsive networks.

The Spectrum Innovation Act, unveiled Wednesday and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on which Doyle is the chairman, will “make available additional frequencies in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band for non-Federal use, shared Federal and non-Federal use, or a combination thereof, and for other purposes.”

The bill comes after Congressman Doyle told Broadband Breakfast last month that spectrum provisions in the Senate-passed infrastructure bill – which is slated to be voted on in the House on Thursday – deviated from the “traditional process” and that he planned to “look at that.”

Among the spectrum rules outlined in the infrastructure bill is the ability of federal officials to seek out spectrum frequencies for federal use, and to shovel money from the Spectrum Relocation Fund toward to the Defense Department for the “purpose of research and development, engineering studies, economic analysis, activities with respect to systems, or other planning activities.”

The affected spectrum in this case would be the 3.1 to 3.45 GigaHertz (GHz) band, a key mid-band series of radio frequencies that includes some federal users, that is the subject of this new bill.

“In addition to up to 200 megahertz of spectrum auctioned for mobile broadband, this bill will help usher in new, innovative wireless uses through opportunistic and other flexible spectrum uses,” Congressman Doyle said.

“For the United States to remain the pacesetter in wireless broadband, we must continue to ensure innovators have a reliable spectrum pipeline,” said congresswoman Matsui in a press release Wednesday.

“We stand at a pivotal moment in the development and deployment of next generation networks; the Spectrum Innovation Act will unleash the economic potential of this valuable mid-band spectrum and give us the tools necessary to meet the communications challenges of tomorrow,” she added.

The bill would require that an investigation be launched into even more frequencies within the bandwidth that could potentially be freed up and sold at auction.

A number of industry associations and public advocacy groups praised the bill.

“The Spectrum Innovation Act of 2021 will greatly benefit consumers by making a very large band of prime spectrum available to help fuel the world’s most robust 5G wireless ecosystem,” said Public Knowledge and the Open Technology Institute at New America in a joint statement.

“We commend Chairman Doyle and Representative Matsui for taking a holistic approach that recognizes the value of making spectrum available both by auction and through shared use by smaller broadband providers, schools, critical infrastructure and literally thousands of individual enterprises on a local basis. This is the policy framework for mid-band spectrum that is most likely to spur 5G competition and innovation, while also ensuring that critical military radar systems can continue to use the band without undue risk of harmful interference.”

The NCTA — Internet and Television Association and the Cellular Telecommunication and Internet Association also came out to voice support for the bill.

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Spectrum

Dish Requests Temporary Authority to Use 600 MegaHertz Band Licenses for 5G Test in Las Vegas and Denver

Dish said it needs non-contiguous 600 MHz band licenses to test open-RAN 5G network in two markets.

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Dish President and CEO Erik Carlson

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2021 – Dish Network is asking the Federal Communications Commission to grant it a temporary license to use 600 MegaHertz (MHz) spectrum band licenses owned by another licensee for 5G tests in Las Vegas and Denver.

Dish said in a Wednesday submission to the FCC that Bluewater Wireless II, the owner of the 600 MHz spectrum band in question, has consented to allow Dish to use the spectrum under a regime called a special temporary authority.

Dish said it requires Bluewater’s spectrum licenses in the two cities to test and validate equipment for its 5G broadband network, using open radio access network technologies. The company said it needs the licenses to test carrier aggregation, where using its own licenses would be insufficient, because the two spectrum blocks cannot be contiguous.

“DISH anticipates needing more low-band spectrum in some markets to meet customer demand in the future,” the company said in its submission. “When and if additional 600 MHz spectrum becomes available, either when the Commission auctions unassigned spectrum or through future partnerships, DISH plans to use carrier aggregation at the market level to combine multiple 600 MHz assets to add capacity and improve data throughput speeds.”

“Grant of this STA will deliver important public interest benefits,” the company added. “In particular, the STA will enable DISH to put to use certain spectrum licensed to Bluewater that is not yet deployed.”

The test will end no later than the end of this year and the spectrum will only be used for testing and not for commercial purposes, Bluewater added in a letter to the FCC consenting to the arrangement.

The Denver-based company said it completed its first fully open RAN-compliant network communication in December 2020.

Dish announced that it was taking sign-ups for its 5G service in June, with the first city to get its so-called Project Gene5is being Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dish secured mobile wireless assets in a deal that allowed T-Mobile to absorb Sprint and entered the market in 2020 with the purchase of Boost Mobile and Ting Mobile. Dish has been widely expected to deliver wireless service that would add competition back in after the acquisition of Sprint.

The company announced this month that it is also purchasing Gen Mobile, a pre-paid and low-cost mobile service company, through its Boost brand.

Earlier this year, Boost bundled its K Health telehealth service in with its mobile service.

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