Defense Department Offers Olive Branch for Cooperation on Commercial Spectrum

Lt. Gen. David Isaacson acknowledged the friction between wireless companies and the Department of Defense over access to spectrum.

Defense Department Offers Olive Branch for Cooperation on Commercial Spectrum
Photo of Lt. Gen. David Isaacson from the Defense Department

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2024 - An official from the Department of Defense invited wireless companies to work together toward spectrum solutions at a 5G Summit on Monday.

“In the past we’ve had conversations largely about winning and losing. I think there’s an opportunity for win-win,” said David Isaacson, Chief Information Officer of the J-6 Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Imagine a world where economics and military instruments of power are not at odds.”

The speech comes in the midst of an ongoing conflict between the DoD and 5G network providers over access to low band spectrum. The lower 3 GigaHertz (GHz) band is coveted for its long-range propagation and greater penetration ability. 

In August 2023, The Cellular Telephone Industries Association released a report stating that 5G networks could function in the lower 3 GHz band without causing interference with military equipment. The report suggested at least 150 megahertz in the lower band can be made available for commercial use.

However, in a September 2023 report, the Defense Department stated that sharing the 3.1-3.45 GHz band remains unfeasible.

Tensions have been exacerbated since the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions were suspended on March 9, 2023. One rationale for the suspension was concern over the military's prioritization of the lower band.

CTIA maintains that the lower 3 GHz band is critical for United States wireless companies to keep up with 5G technology’s increasing user demand, and maintain leadership in the international community.

As the global telecommunications community aligns under the lower 3 GHz band as a key mid-band spectrum, 3GPP equipment is being standardized with this frequency. 3GPP refers to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, and is a wireless standard.

American wireless companies must utilize the lower band in order to participate in this international standard and increase innovation, according to CTIA.

Addressing an audience of industry leaders, Isaacson extended an invitation on behalf of the Defense Department to “work together” to resolve spectrum conflicts. Isaacson invited the “best and the brightest” to offer input to the department and collaborate toward a mutually beneficial future.

Isaacson did not shed light on any changes in Defense's approach to spectrum. However, Isaacson's speech acknowledged the important relationship between the military and the private sector.

“We want economic interests and power to be advanced because that’s how military power is derived,” Isaacson said. “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, but working together is success.”

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