My Kingdom for a Hertz: Can Washington Keep the Mobile Revolution Going?

May 15, 2012
An expert panel searches for practical solutions to the spectrum crunch.

Two years ago, the National Broadband Plan recommended that the government allocate 300 MHz of new spectrum to mobile broadband networks within five years and an additional 200 MHz for various uses within ten years. Since the Plan was published, 20 MHz has been reserved for a Public Safety Network, 40 MHz has been reserved to protect GPS receivers, the Defense Department has asked for 10 years and $12 billion to relocate military applications in the 1755 – 1850 MHz band, Congress has constrained the FCC’s repacking power, and demand for mobile network capacity has continued to grow. Read more »

See video

Crowded Spectrum

May 4, 2012
| Blogs & Op-eds

The editorial "Spectrum wars: Don’t be too quick to allot spectrum" (Our View, April 26) proposes bad policy because it relies on bad information.

The National Broadband Plan, produced by the Federal Communications Commission in 2009, predicted that the United States will face a "spectrum crunch" by 2013 unless significant swathes of radio frequencies are reassigned to commercial and other public uses. These frequencies are currently assigned to government systems that are largely outmoded.

Spectrum News That’s Fit to Print and More

April 23, 2012
| Blogs & Op-eds

The New York Times article that appeared on the day of the House Technology and Innovation Subcommittee hearing on the spectrum crunch distorted the discussion.

House Science Committee Testimony on Spectrum

April 18, 2012
| Presentations

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s technology and innovation subcommittee has scheduled an April 18 hearing on avoiding the spectrum crunch. It is set for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The scheduled witnesses announced so far are Richard Bennett, senior research fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and Mary Brown, director-technology and spectrum policy for Cisco Systems, Inc. Other witnesses are to be announced later.

House Subcommittee Testimony Avoiding the Spectrum Crunch: Growing the Wireless Economy through Innovation

April 18, 2012
| Testimony and Filings

Computing is undergoing a dramatic shift from fixed-location desktop and nomadic laptop systems to mobile devices, networks, and applications. In 2011, the number of smartphones sold worldwide exceeded the number of personal computers sold for the first time. Only half of Americans have smartphones so far, so the trend will continue for some time. One day appliances and other devices will come to have smartphone capability built in, so the number of “smartphones” will exceed the population many times over.

New users will use mobile social networks, among other applications. Last week, Facebook acquired Instagram, a photo sharing service with only 13 employees, for a billion dollars because Instagram had acquired 40 million users in only 16 months of operation. “Mobile Augmented Reality” is a new application category that extracts information from massive databases in the Cloud relevant to a user’s location, activity, and preferences; it moves video streams between the user and the Cloud. All of these applications require spectrum – the more the better – and as they’re truly mobile there are limited opportunities to offload their spectrum needs to short distance Wi-Fi networks. Spectrum assignments by regulators around the world have produced a highly fragmented system of relatively small assignments for a relatively large number of applications, as we see in the NTIA’s spectrum allocation chart.

We need to realign spectrum into a smaller number of larger allocations for general-purpose commercial networks because such networks have the proven ability to manage the demands of competing users and applications. In order to do this – a process akin to putting Humpty-Dumpty back together – we need to shift most government applications and all low-value commercial applications onto general-purpose commercial networks. This is where the 500 MHz recommended by the National Broadband Plan will come from, and the only way to get to a more realistic allocation of commercial spectrum. All spectrum assignments ultimately come from a common pool. Many government applications are critical for first-responders during periods of crisis. We have technologies that permit certain applications to get high-priority treatment on commercial networks. But commercial users also desire more spectrum during such events, so we have a policy conflict. This conflict was resolved by Congress through the creation of FirstNet, the public safety network operated by NTIA, but this is not a satisfactory solution. Ultimately, FirstNet operations should be commercialized, as soon as devices have been developed that allow trusted priority access policies. When we have such devices, the balance between public and government use can be specified by contract rather than by spectrum fragmentation.

Striking a balance between commercial and government use will remain a difficult policy problem until mobile network technology advances to the next stage. Ultimately, technology will enable reliable networks to support multiple simultaneous transmissions (many speakers at once) in the same spectrum, at the same time, and in the same location. Commercial network operators are motivated to solve this problem, but with the decline of America’s R&D giants – such as Bell Labs– funding for basic research is highly dependent on government’s contributions. Taxpayer money is better spent on such research problems than on building duplicate network facilities such as FirstNet. Advanced sharing will have tremendous military benefits as well, since it does not depend on cooperative regulators abroad.

The 700 MHz Device Subsidy Plan

April 6, 2012
| Blogs & Op-eds

Could this be simply “Wireless Carterfone,” an attempt to re-live the glory days of 1969 when the courts and the FCC required interoperability for the telephone network? While that decision lead to cheaper and more plentiful fax machines, modems, and answering machines, it’s not really parallel to the situation we have in the rapidly-changing world of cellular technology. We have to think about how this mandate will affect the roll-out of 5G and 6G services as well as faster and better smartphones even if we can convince ourselves that it makes sense to have the national carriers subsidize the regionals.

707 allocations are at stake for Department of Defense when examining the NTIA report on clearing the 1755 - 1850 MHz spectrum of government allocations.

It is time to scale back on the generous allocation of spectrum to government. Simply moving government agencies from one prime spot below 3 GHz to another is actually a failure. With new communications technologies, agencies should also realize they serve the public by performing their roles to the best of their abilities, and these roles do not generally include network operations. We can and should allocate spectrum to spur commercial innovation that benefits consumers while ensuring the reliability of communications related to public safety and national security.

Freeing Federal Spectrum

March 27, 2012
| Blogs & Op-eds

It seems that the ice is beginning to melt around federal spectrum allocations in the 1755-1850 MHz band. Civilian agencies are generally working in the right spirit toward the national goal, and military and law enforcement agencies are beginning to recognize that their extravagant historical claims on spectrum rights need to be scaled back, even if they’re not entirely happy about it.

This exercise can be judged effective only if the total amount of government spectrum is sharply reduced; simply moving government agencies from one prime spot below 3 GHz to another is actually a failure. Agencies should also realize that they serve the public by performing their roles to the best of their abilities, and these roles do not generally include network operations. The DOD is strangely lacking in enthusiasm for the software-defined radio technology it pioneered. There’s a story there that needs to be told, I fear.