Spectrum Leaders Call for Balance Amidst Standstill

Leaders in the spectrum industry emphasize the symbiotic relationship between national security and economic growth.

Spectrum Leaders Call for Balance Amidst Standstill
Photo of Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA, the wireless association, from June 2014 by CTIA.

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2024 – Leaders in the spectrum industry convened on Wednesday to address the ongoing spectrum standstill in the United States, emphasizing the need for balance between prioritizing national security and economic growth.

Notably, the Federal Communications Commission authority to auction spectrum licenses expired just over a year ago for the first time in 30 years. At the same time, the commercial spectrum pipeline has dwindled, causing demand to rise without identified solutions to meet it.

During the discussion Umair Javed, senior vice president of spectrum at CTIA, brought attention to what he believes is a prevailing misconception holding up current spectrum policy. He argued that the prevailing notion that national security interests conflict with economic growth is misguided, emphasizing historical evidence suggests otherwise.

Javed pointed out the symbiotic relationship between commercial and military technology development, citing multiple advancements in military technology that have relied on commercial networks and technologies. 

For instance, revenue generated from spectrum auctions has been instrumental in upgrading military systems and funding vital public infrastructure projects, such as expanding public safety networks and reducing national debt, he said.

“In the United States, we seem to be moving towards this view that national power comes from our military holding on to spectrum assets, that they need flexibility and that spectrum is how they get it,” said Javed. 

“Meanwhile, you look at other countries, and they sort of have this view of national power coming from the success of their commercial technologies and the ability to proliferate them around the world. China's strategy, for example, is very much predicated on that.”

“I think we need to do a better job of finding a balance between those two things."

Javed said in his talks with the U.S. Department of Defense what comes through as what the DoD values the most is mobility. "They’re thinking about the future of warfare," he said.

To address these challenges, an event hosted by the Department of Defense at CTIA’s conference center in Washington D.C., aimed at kickstarting discussions with the private sector on implementation strategies is slated for April 8. 

Year-long dispute between the Defense Department and the wireless industry

This event comes amid a longstanding dispute between DoD and CTIA over the potential repurposing of spectrum within the 3.1-3.45 GHz S-band for commercial use. The Defense Department produced a report in December finding that the agency cannot currently share S-band spectrum with commercial users.

Javed further placed emphasis on the crucial role of Congress in renewing FCC auction authority and identifying spectrum bands for auctioning.

The conversation underscored the current spectrum situation in the U.S., with Javed expressing a sentiment of ambiguity, likening it to "a lot of smoke and maybe not fire yet." 

A bill proposed by Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on March 11 stood out as a potential solution. The bill would renew FCC's auction authority while mandating the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify at least 2500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for commercial innovation. 

The bill would also mandate the FCC to auction a portion of the 1250 megahertz for full power licensed use within six years, with at least 600 megahertz allocated within three years. Additionally, the bill aims to allocate 125 megahertz for unlicensed services, further promoting Wi-Fi expansion.

Javed said one strength of the bill from Senator Cruz is that it does not specify which bands the spectrum must come from, but instead requires the NTIA to identify suitable spectrum within a specified timeframe. 

“That's something that I would say lines up nicely with the national spectrum strategy, which also requires two years of studies,” Javed said. 

The NTIA’s National Spectrum Strategy homes in on the lower 3 GigaHertz (GHz) band and the 7 GHz and 6 GHz bands as places to find spectrum to support commercial innovation. Those could be potential bands that could meet the requirements of the Senate bill, Javed said.

Responding to a question on CTIA’s stance on the prominent topic of dynamic spectrum sharing, Javed said that while half of the initiatives outlined in the NSS Implementation Plan focus on developing dynamic sharing capabilities, there lacks a clear definition of what dynamic sharing entails, making it somewhat of a "moonshot" endeavor. 

The question was posed by moderator Carolyn Brandon, a consultant who previously served as vice president of policy for CTIA.

According to Javed, existing sharing frameworks often involve trade-offs, such as pushing commercial use to low power, which may not be suitable for all services. This approach may work for some but not all, especially when deploying wide area networks to ensure widespread access to new technologies across the nation.

Some FCC and other industry officials believe that spectrum sharing, facilitating the coexistence of 4G, LTE, and 5G wireless technologies on the same frequency bands, will be imperative in the future.

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